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Composite Components Made Easy with Light

23 April 2010

At the JEC Composites Show Fraunhofer researchers showed how lasers can make the manufacturing of structures out of fibre-reinforced thermoplastics efficient, clean, reliable and automatic.

To facilitate the fully-automated production of components out of fibre-reinforced thermoplastics, engineers and scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT have developed a new process. Carbon fibres are impregnated with thermoplastic resin and multiple layers are stacked on top of each other – heated by a laser just before being laid down – and then compressed into a compact structure. The tape strips fuse with each other and cool off quickly, because the laser rapidly emits precisely measured doses of energy in a targeted manner onto the material. This minimizes the expenditure of energy and time. IPT say that, compared to prior manufacturing processes – for instance, joining tapes with hot air – the quality is even better.

Creating bonds with lasers

Fraunhofer researchers also presented a new joining technology for glass- fibre-reinforced thermoplastics. ""All we need for this is a laser that emits infrared light,"" explained Wolfgang Knapp of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT. ""The infrared laser melts the surface of the plastic components. If you compress them when they are still fluid and then let them harden, then the result is an extraordinarily stable bond.""

""The materials must withstand immense acceleration, vibrations and temperature differences, so a 200-percent level of safety is required,"" explains Knapp. In conjunction with his colleagues, he optimized the laser joining process: ""The know-how sticks in the process control: in determining the gap between laser head and surface; in controlling the time which the laser beam lingers on substrate; in calibrating the pressure.""

Materials for the extreme case

IPT say that the possible uses of laser beams in the production and processing of fibre-reinforced thermoplastics are absolutely limitless: ""The new joining techniques are suitable for all thermoplastic materials that are subjected to extreme strains,"" concluded Knapp, who coordinated the Fraunhofer joint exhibition booth.





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