Automated 3D fiber layup concepts for aerospace based on Fiber Patch Placement technology
Fiber Patch Placement (FPP) automates the fiber layup of complex composites and reinforcements. A pick-and-place robot with a flexible patch gripper precisely places defined fiber patches, cut from a dry-fiber or thermoset prepreg tape, on a 3D mold. This eliminates additional forming processes and allows for a discrete orientation of patches along load paths, increasing stiffness and strength by 150% while saving 30% of material. The process is scalable: For high-volume production, larger and thicker patches are used, so that production cells process 15+ kg/hour of material. Patch stations combined to production lines reach throughputs of 100 kg/hour.
A technology-specific software platform is available: A CAD module generates patch laminates with variable fiber orientation and laminate thickness. A CAM module uses this laminate to perform an automated, collision-free offline programming of the production robots. An additional plugin for FEA software enables the detailed modeling of patch-based laminates.
A new aerospace application for FPP: processing ½-inch pregtows left over in AFP/ATL processes due to uneven material utilization during production, as all bobbins are replaced at once. Using this material (otherwise waste) as input for FPP improves economics of both processes and eliminates disposal of uncured prepreg material.
Also of interest for aerospace: the precise placement of different materials for complex sandwich structures. Starting with the first glass fiber ply (obligatory for parts with drilled holes) and continuing with materials like adhesive films, local reinforcements and lightning-protective copper mesh. FPP automates the placement and provides process reports for a seamless quality control. Materials can also be processed simultaneously to integrally create hybrid fiber parts.
Summed up, Fiber Patch Placement technology offers aerospace manufacturers new opportunities to increase build rates, minimize tool occupation time and increase first-pass quality rates. The technology is a key enable to get beyond 53%.