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R3 Composites and Carver Non-Woven Technologies are both in the process of expanding to serve their respective customer base better.
According to Carver, which only began commercial production in July, it is now beginning its Phase 2 installation work and expects that to be completed by the end of October. The new work involves adding three additional opening lines for a total of six. The company says it will also add an additional blending line, another cross-lapper, and an additional card. Once installation of the second opening and blending lines is complete, its production volume for non-wovens will increase to nearly 3,000 kgs per hour. Additionally, the new equipment will enable its researchers to expand their developmental work on hybrid non-wovens, by adding more synthetic fibres to the mix as well as carbon fibre, including compound development for applications where higher impact strength, acoustical damping, heat-deflection temperature, and structural requirements are needed in a single application. The second line allows for construction of a single web incorporating up to six different fibre types in two different layers that will subsequently be combined into a single finished, needled product. Carver explains that this unique capability will allow it to fully customise its non-woven products to help customers optimise for cost, weight, and aesthetics in their final moulded composite parts and meet more challenging application requirements.
Further, Carver also says it is the first commercial non-wovens manufacturer in the world to install a line designed to run blends with up to 80% carbon fibre content. With this capability, it already has begun discussions with commercial aircraft manufacturers about developing non-woven carbon fibre blends for aircraft interior components that contain both virgin and recycled carbon fibre. Further, Carver says it has begun development with an automaker on a custom blend containing carbon fibre for lightweight door trim panels.
Since its July startup, Carver explains that it has been producing both synthetic (polymer-based) and blends of synthetic and E-glass or natural fibre mats for customers in a number of industries. Interestingly, one trend the company is already seeing is that customers who previously had been using a scrim backing between non-wovens and a fabric face skin have been able to eliminate the scrim. Customers report being surprised that the new Carver non-wovens are processing so well, and doing so without wrinkles, which can be a challenge when using the normally necessary scrim. “We call this the winning trifecta,” notes Mark Glidden, President, R3 Composites and Carver Non-Woven. “By eliminating the scrim, customer save weight and cost, plus achieve better appearance.”
Even more interesting, Carver says that this ability to eliminate scrim occurred during sampling of some of the first products produced on new equipment. According to Carver these products were made while it was only using the worker needles at the front end of the needling process and had yet to start using the finish needles at the rear of the process. Explaining why he believes the first-run quality is so good, Glidden explains, “We believe our success in these projects has everything to do with the card that’s normally used to open fibres. Our card doesn’t open the fibres. Rather, the fibres have already been fully opened by the time they get to the card. Our card is only used to create a web (of fibre mat). If you’re using the card to open fibres as well as make a web, then the fibres are going to get roughed up and are more likely to be shorter and damaged. Also, the web’s fibre blend will be more unbalanced, which means it usually will end with fibre streaking on the primary web exiting card. Our multi-step opening process is both gentler and offers far more control, which in turn enables us to produce better looking material that’s fluffier, more open, and provides a more homogeneous blend. And when combined with our unique needling technology, it means that we can produce a finished surface that is needle-hole free. And it’s only going to get better as we bring our finish needling capabilities online.”
Carver explains that the success with these early projects has now led to an order for material for an automotive battery tray and that its unique opening and needling layouts are also enabling it to work with customers on non-wovens, featuring higher temperature synthetic fibres. For example, one development project between Carver and a fibre supplier is focused on replacing conventional polypropylene while maintaining the same processing parameters yet achieving higher heat-deflection temperature and higher fibre wetout.
According to carver, another ambitious project its team is tackling is to create a quarterly index for jute natural fibre, something that has not been available previously and should help reduce seasonal fluctuations in the market. Working with governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), universities, and farmers in Bangladesh and India, the team is trying to determine key variables for jute fibres that indicate the quality of fibre likely to be produced from an upcoming crop. The index will be published by Carver for its customers to help those who are located far from the growers better understand fibre intricacies.
Another change that affects both Carver as well as R3 is the opening of a new shared testing laboratory at the Carver location. “We now can do our own fogging, moisture, burn and E84 simulation tests, as well as mechanical testing in-house following A2LA procedural rules,” adds Glidden. “We used to have to send our samples out to external services and wait. Now we can work much more efficiently and respond to customer requests a lot faster.”
R3 says it is busy working with a resin supplier on formulating and compounding 1.2 specific gravity (SG) sheet-moulding compound (SMC) grades for automotive Class A and structural applications. Once the 1.2 SG formulations are set, R3 and the resin supplier plan to continue working on 1.1 and 1.0 SG products, which R3 will then mould for its automotive customers. Additionally, Glidden notes that R3 is moulding more glass-mat thermoplastic (GMT) composites. Still another change is that one of R3’s three paint lines has been refurbished and is up and running, allowing the company to offer additional service to customers in many industries.
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