October 12th 2022, Airborne hosted the final showcase event for the Affordable Rate-Capable Structures (ARCS) project, part funded by Innovate UK, through the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC). The project was led by Sigmatex, with other project partners including Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan UK, Airborne, AMRC, Cranfield University and Autostructures UK.
The overall goal was to achieve two automotive battery box demonstrators showing the mass reduction potential by use of carbon fibre. This mass reduction translates into the CO2 benefit of that weight reduction over the life of the vehicle, also considering the CO2 footprint of the part itself vs alternatives. The second main objective was to achieve this at rate with target TAKT time of under 3 mins, and with significant cost reduction in materials and processes.
Sigmatex as lead partner focussed on their non-woven fabric manufactured from recycled carbon fibre waste. The highly conformable product is an anisotropic material with excellent mechanical properties and good balance of properties and cost. During the project they developed and installed machine modifications to enable considerable increases in speed of production and therefore lower cost raw material.
Autostructures UK provided the process of applying resin to a 3D preform, and wet-pressing to final form. Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan contributed with design cases of a composite battery box structures. The research institutes AMRC and Cranfield supported with simulation, design, and tooling.
Airborne took the challenge to achieve production of 3D preforms converting raw materials first to 2D preforms (tailored blanks) and then subsequently forming by pressing into stabilised 3D shapes. The basis for this was the use of Airborne’s Automated Ply Placement (APP) technology. This approach uses pick and place to take plies from an integrated cutting machine, or stand-alone static buffer, and assemble them into a 2D stack, with ply to ply welding via hot pins or ultrasonics to melt the binder in the dry Sigmatex material. APP allows multiple material forms such as UD, wovens, multiaxials, non-wovens or even metallic veils to all be combined using the same end effector. The technology showed its versatility during the project in being able the process the new recycled non-woven fabric of Sigmatex. It was the first time this material was processed with an automated manufacturing process. Airborne’s automated programming provides the connection to design by automating the workflow between CAD design of the preform, and the subsequent manufacture.
The project has enabled the installation of the first flexible manufacturing cell at Airborne UK. This can process both thermoset and thermoplastic materials, with the ability to make either preforms or finished parts to customer designs. The Airborne philosophy is to use automated programming to enable use of automation for ever smaller batch sizes of production, enabling more and more components to benefit from the economics of automated production but without the capex – this is manufacturing as a service.
In future, new R&D programs will continue to add capability to the APP production system in both physical capability but also digital, such as sensorisation, data collection, analytics and adaptive feedback. The current production line is already capable of production, and Airborne UK is pursuing projects in a variety of markets including micromobility, UAM/UAV, automomotive and marine. If you have a medium volume part which would suit automation but aren’t ready to invest yourself yet, give us a call.