New technologies and techniques that radically reduce the cost and environmental impact of using composites are entering production following the completion of a four-year European research project, involving the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing (AMRC).
AMRC explains that the REFORM project has cut the energy used in some processes by more than 50 per cent, reduced production costs by more than 45 per cent and increased recycling of some consumables and raw materials to around 95 per cent.
AMRC says that nine companies from five countries and four research organisations from different countries, took part in the project, funded by the European 7th Framework Factory of the Future Programme and sparked by the increasing use of fibre-reinforced composites to replace metals in the transport and construction industries.
According to AMRC, composites are being used in the aerospace and other transport sectors to reduce vehicle weight and improve fuel efficiency, while the combination of strength and light weight they offer has led to increasing use in the construction of structures like bridges. However, the manufacturing and assembly processes used to make composite structures are not always as environmentally friendly as they might be and the potential for recycling composites has been limited.
REFORM Coordinator, Dr Rosemary Gault, from the AMRC, said, “REFORM focused on four areas – forming, machining, assembly and recycling – to make sure gains made in one area did not lead to waste and inefficiency elsewhere.
“The project has created a series of new technologies and techniques that are ready to be introduced by industry and could make a significant contribution to cutting the cost and environmental impact of the growing use of composites.”
Work on forming using laser-assisted tape lay-up and augmented reality led to significant reductions in energy requirements, scrap, time and labour costs. As a result, lay-up systems with advanced control are now being made available to composite manufacturers.
AMRC explains how research into water jet machining of components resulted in up to 95 per cent recovery of water and abrasives, a reduction of up to 75 per cent in machine and delivery times and less scrap. New recycling, cutting head, positioning and fixturing systems will be made available to industry, along with a novel waterjet nozzle that could double cutting speeds for the same energy.
It says that industry will also benefit from the development of modular, lightweight, reconfigurable composite fixturing and tooling under the project’s Assembly theme, which reduced the manufacturing time for new tooling by around 70 per cent and cut tooling costs by 90 per cent and more, while also reducing the time to ramp up production and cycle times.
As a result of the research, AMRC claims it is now possible to recycle scrap material and turn it into boards that can be used to make parts, new tooling, replacements for fixtures and for any application where flat boards and assemblies are required.
Meanwhile, work on methods for recycling laminates and fibres succeeded in producing material using up to 80 per cent less energy at about a fifth of the cost of virgin fibre.