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New R&D collaboration MAI ACoSaLUS – Automated Composite Sandwich Lay-Up System

Together with GKN Aerospace Deutschland GmbH, TUM – Chair of Carbon Composites, SGL Carbon, Augsburg University of Applied Sciences, and under the co-founding authority of Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy, Cevotec started a pioneering R&D project: The full automation of sandwich structure production.

The continued effort to reduce emissions in the aerospace industry has led to the widespread adaptation of composite materials and sandwich structures. It is a major driver for new process developments and part certifications. Composite materials, in particular sandwich structures, offer very specific benefits. But as of today, they still greatly depend on manual labor and multiple, subsequent inspection steps to assure compliance with tight quality specifications. By enhancing the automated Fiber Patch Placement (FPP) lay-up process with advanced on-line inspection capabilities, Cevotec strives to make the production of these components more affordable, more efficient, and more controlled. “The FPP technology is unique in its capability to lay-up fibers on surfaces with compound bends and we want to extend this to the automated lay-up of complete sandwich components, including the core materials”, states Cevotec CEO Thorsten Groene. Key targets of the project are to increase the net lay-up speed by factor 7-10x to 15m²/h and to reduce the amount of manual labor needed by up to 100%.

Cevotec’s scope of work encompasses both software and hardware developments. First area of development is a further advancement of the patch placement process. “We will implement an active force-feedback function on the robot integrated in our system to meet optimal compaction forces during the lay-up process while also enhancing our proprietary gripper technology”, explains Richard Carle, ACoSaLUS Project Lead at Cevotec. Together with the Augsburg University of Applied Sciences, Cevotec works on an optimization of their lay-up planning and simulation algorithms to reduce the overall cycle time per component and to further increase the quality of mechanical strength predictions. To ensure the produced components match the strict manufacturing specifications needed by aerospace customers and tier-one suppliers, Cevotec will develop a vision system to inspect the first and second skin laminates during the placement process. This will be done in close cooperation with GKN Aerospace GmbH and VisCheck GmbH. New prepreg formulations developed by SGL Carbon will also be tested during the project to optimize their use on Cevotec systems. In addition, a gripper-based application technology for vacuum aids newly developed by Vabatec GmbH is to be elaborated.

At the end of the project in 2023, Cevotec aims to have improved the net lay-up speed of relevant components by factor 7-10x and to have developed a fully automated lay-up process for sandwich parts using Fiber Patch Placement technology, including advanced on-line inspection routines and self-adaptive process control, advanced placement routines, and automated core handling, with the objective to transfer the developments into aerospace series production.

About Cevotec:

Munich-based automation specialist Cevotec offers one of the world’s most advanced production systems for complex fiber composites. At the intersection of composites, mechanical engineering and software, Cevotec develops production systems and software based on Fiber Patch Placement (FPP) technology: SAMBA and ARTIST STUDIO. The systems, which are particularly suited for automated fiber placement on complex 3D geometries, process carbon fibers, glass fibers, adhesive films and other technical fibers. They can be used for a broad range of applications. Such flexibility is particularly appreciated by customers from aerospace and med-tech industries, who realize cost and time savings of 20%-60% when switching from manual processes to FPP.

About GKN Aerospace Deutschland GmbH

GKN Aerospace is the original aerospace innovator. For decades, GKN Aerospace technologies have inspired and industrialized the aerospace industry, combining engineering excellence and technology leadership.

Munich specialises in the design, development, manufacture and qualification of highly integrated composite structures in the aeronautical and space sector. Integrated engineering processes, tool design and development and advanced assembly complete its portfolio.

About TUM – Chair of Carbon Composites

The Chair of Carbon Composites was founded in May 2009, with a focus on carbon-fiber composite materials and their applications. The appointment of Professor Drechsler was made possible by the foundation of a Chair by the SGL Group and a TUM investment with funding from the German Excellence Initiative. The renowned scientist and his team will address fundamental research and application-oriented industry cooperation in the field of fiber-reinforced composites.

The LCC takes an interdisciplinary approach to research, extending from the raw materials through implementation of manufacturing technologies to complete composite components. With specially developed simulation methods, the composite manufacturing process chain can be represented virtually. The staff at the Chair of Carbon Composites is working in four research groups in the areas:

– Process technology for fibers and textiles

– Process technology for matrix systems

– Simulation

– Material properties and testing

Involved in various national and international research projects in close collaboration with industrial partners and other research institutions, the chair covers composite materials with thermoplastic and thermoset matrix composites.

For innovative manufacturing process, such as the fiber patch preforming, thermoforming or braiding processes, modern facilities are  used to optimize the component and to improve the efficiency of the entire process. The Chair of Carbon Composites is a strategic research partner of various national and international companies and is also a member of the “Carbon Composite eV” and a key partner in the excellence cluster “MAI Carbon”.

About SGL Carbon

SGL Carbon is a technology-based company and world leader in the development and production of carbon-based solutions. Its high-quality materials and products made from specialty graphite and composites are used in industrial sectors that determine the future: automotive, aerospace, solar and wind energy, semiconductor and LEDs as well as in the production of lithium-ion batteries, fuel cell and other energy storage systems. In addition, SGL Carbon develops solutions for chemical and industrial applications.

In 2020, SGL Carbon SE generated sales of more than 900 million euros. The company has approx. 4,800 employees at 31 locations in Europe, North America, and Asia.

Materials, products and solutions from SGL Carbon are embedded in the major topics of the future: sustainable mobility, new energies and cross-industry digitization. Further developments in these areas demand more intelligent, more efficient, networked and sustainable solutions. This is where the entrepreneurial vision of SGL Carbon evolves around: contributing to a smarter world.

About VisCheck GmbH

Founded in 2015 in the district of Munich, the company specializes in sophisticated image processing. Our engineering team has developed technological milestones in the field of image processing without server connection in different lighting conditions and demanding materials such as carbon.

This know-how enables us to develop sophisticated optical applications (industrial cameras) for pattern recognition/quality assurance, where we also make use of thermography, weight and other parameters. The logging of the production is familiar to us (e.g. with RFID on the workpiece).

Complementing the previous contract work, “Opdra”, our first own product, was introduced in the summer of 2020. “Opdra” enables the optical reading of (production) screens including digitization of the displayed data. This makes it possible for the first time to do without an interface and thus close a significant IoT gap. This is because many machines are either too old for interfaces or are new, but their manufacturers only offer complex (= expensive) solutions. “Opdra” uses a camera to see like a human and is easy to operate. As a result, robots can be controlled, for example.

About Augsburg University of Applied Sciences

With 6500 students the Augsburg University of Applied Sciences is one of the largest in Bavarian Swabia. With over 160 professors and more than 300 tutors, the insitute uses the latest teaching methods and equipment to provide students with the best education in engineering, business, design and social sciences. The commitment of over 300 non-academic and academic support staff, as well as the state-of-the-art laboratories, workshops and lecture halls, all contribute to excellent conditions for research and teaching.

As a modern university Augsburg University of Applied Sciences stands for innovation, creativity and progress. The central position in Augsburg makes the insitute an ideal focal point for creating a communication network between the economy, society and politics. The fact that Augsburg is conveniently situated in the heart of Bavaria makes it an attractive location for both business and research.

About Vabatec GmbH

VABATEC® (est. 2014) with headquarter in Munich, develops, produces and sells vacuum auxiliary materials for the production of composite components (like VABALON® Vacuum Films, VABATEC® RF release films, VABATEC® IN infusion systems, etc.) and is a supplier in the wind energy market, the automotive and the marine production as well as in the aerospace industry.

In addition to that, VABATEC® is working on customized development of individual, tailor-made solutions of plastic films for the most different industries (e.g. automotive, graphics, energy technology, etc.).

VABATEC® stands for excellent and reproducible product attributes, dependable delivery, an attractive cost-performance ratio, reliable products, first class technical support, and the continuous development of products and services.

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