Delcam Develops High-Accuracy Machining Methods for Composites

25 February 2008

Delcam is developing new machinging methods, in association with F1 supplier Crosby Composites, to produce composite components to levels of accuracy not normally seen in the industry.

Crosby Composites’ owner Paul Crosby is using the new technology to finish machine CFRP parts to tolerances between 0.1 and 0.25mm, so providing a key differentiator for his business.

Delcam believes that composite manufacturers must be able to produce parts to similar levels of accuracy as suppliers of metal components before the materials can hope to achieve their true market potential.

One of the key problems with composites is that machined holes and pockets tend to be undersize because the material relaxes when it is cut. This effect is difficult to predict because it is impossible to cut all the fibres in the same orientation. In the new Delcam process, the initial machining operation on the component is followed by an inspection using a probe on the machine tool and the company’s PowerINSPECT On-Machine Verification software. This system shows how much more material needs to be removed and so enables the required extra toolpaths to be generated in the PowerMILL CAM system.

For a typical component, with between 20 and 30 holes, a further cycle of inspection and machining may be needed to produce all the dimensions to the required tolerance. However, for subsequent parts, the complete machining sequence can be repeated and the results checked with a final inspection.

Apart from the increase in accuracy possible with this approach, another big benefit is that all the machining and inspection can be completed on the machine tool on a single fixture. According to Mr. Crosby, it is impossible to maintain the necessary tolerances when moving between a series of fixtures, while using multiple set-ups on different fixtures would also take much longer.

The first set of seventeen components produced by Crosby Composites with this method was supplied to one of the F1 teams. The parts all fitted onto the car with no clashes or re-work. It was the first time in the team’s history that this had happened with any set of composite parts from any supplier.

“The early success we have seen with this new approach has made us confident that it can be applied across many other applications where high-accuracy composite components are needed, especially in the aerospace and automotive industries,” said Delcam’s Marketing Manager Peter Dickin. “We are keen to hear from other manufacturers that would like to help us progress this development work.”

Delcam will be promoting its latest developments in the high-accuracy machining of composites at the JEC exhibition to be held in Paris from 1st to 3rd April.

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