Everybody knows 3D printing and how easy it is to use: start the printer, send your design file to it and off you go. You can do it yourself with your in-house printer, or use a web service where you upload your design, get a quote and order the part. That is exactly what we want to achieve with composites. We’ve created the world’s first portal where you can design and print composite parts, produced by industrial and qualified automated manufacturing systems. Want to try it? Register here!

3D printing is hip and there are many new, exciting developments to create 3D printers for composites. But in essence, composite manufacturing is already an additive manufacturing process in which layers of materials are added to each other to create the laminate of the composite part. The challenge is much more to close the loop and have a fully automated workflow from design to manufacturing, so that you can really ‘print’ a part. Instead of using new processes like 3D printing that are still under development, we want to enable printing with existing, industry-proven and qualified automated manufacturing processes.

 We have created a web-based platform where anyone can design composite parts and get direct feedback on performance and price. With this feedback the user can optimise the design for his or her specific use-case and order the part.

The first application of the portal is for thermoset laminates manufactured in prepreg material by the Automated Laminating Cell (ALC) technology of Airborne. This robotised system combines three functionalities in one system. The first is to create the laminate by Automated Tape Laying. The second step is to cut the laminate into the required shapes and this can be used to nest multiple parts in one larger laminate. The third step is pick & place which can be used to place local patches on the laminate, or to combine sub-laminates into new, larger structures.

In the images below, the functionality of the portal is shown. The user can either define a straight, rectangular laminate, or upload a .dxf file to define a certain shape. After selecting the material, the user can define the fibre angles per layer and build up the laminate. The strength, stiffness and price are shown on the right. For users that are not knowledgeable on composites, the strength and stiffness feedback can help to design the laminate correctly, which makes it easy to compare to for example metal or plastic alternatives. In a separate tab, the path planning of the ALC system is shown, to visualise how production time is calculated and what the scrap at the edges will be. This can help the user to define a better shape, for example a better fit with the courses the tape laying head is making. 

When ready to order, you can select to recieve the laminates cured, in the autoclave of Airborne, or uncured so that the laminates can still be shaped into the required shape. Input your delivery details, select how many laminates you need, press the button and we will manufacture your order and ship it to you. Easy!

The portal is now operational for thermoset prepreg laminates made with the ALC system. We plan to add our other automated solutions to this portal as well, so stay tuned. In the systems we sell to clients, we include similar, but more advanced portals that are optimised for the operations of clients and are integrated in their digital workflow. One of such advanced portals is for the production of CCAT, a new carbon fibre telescope that we are building at Airborne. It has a large, complex truss structure build from prepreg sub-laminates. The software of the portal takes Fibersim design input and a workorder from our ERP system. It then defines the nesting of individual sub-laminates into a larger laminate, and creates the ALC code for the tapelaying, cutting and pick & place. The ALC system takes the sub-laminates and builds up the truss structure with pick & place. When there are local defects in the laminate, the software will adapt the nesting and create a new cutting and pick & place programme on-the-fly, so that material waste is minimised.

If you are ready to explore this portal or just curious to see how it works, try it out! If you send me a message, I’ll make sure you receive the inlog details to enter the portal yourself. You can also go here and ask for an account.

Enjoy playing! 

About the author
Picture of Marcus Kremers

Marcus Kremers


Scroll to Top