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Composites Industry News

News for November 2005


Friction-free Nanopipes

18th November 2005 0 comments

Researchers have now found that carbon nanotubes only 7 billionths of a meter in diameter can channel many fluids nearly friction free. With some fluids, the interiors of the tubes were so slippery that substances sailed through 10,000-100,000 times faster than models had predicted. For the experiments, chemical and materials engineers Bruce Hinds, a National Science Foundation CAREER awardee, Mainak Majumder, Nitin Chopra and Rodney Andrews of the University of Kentucky fabricated membranes made from billions of aligned carbon nanotubes. The fabrication techniques easily adapt to large-scale production, which is important for industries that could use such membranes for separating commodity chemicals. Hinds and his colleagues crafted the membranes so that each side can have different chemical properties. As a result, the selective membrane could one day be used to deliver drugs through the skin or in specialized chemical sensors.

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Massive Price Escalations Forecast

18th November 2005 0 comments

The German composites industry association, AVK, is forecasting that the GRP sector will see massive price escalations by the end of the year, with unsaturated polyester resins and polypropylene equally affected. According to them, the continuing upsurge in prices for mineral oil-based raw materials targeted for GRP manufacture, which has been going on for the past few months, has accelerated once more in October. Thus, raw material prices in the mix showed a 10 – 20 % increase within a single month. This is partially due to the increase in glycol, maleic anhydride, and styrene prices. They have seen similar tendencies with respect to PP, which serves as a matrix material for GMT and LFT. This forecast massive price uptrend results not only from increased oil prices, but also from the highly variable availability of processing capacities. The temporary shutdown of intensely utilized refinery capacities has an immediate effect on the pricing. At the moment this is particularly true of ethylene-based raw materials. Owing to the prevailing quotations, consumers are currently purchasing only minimum volumes of raw materials that are absolutely indispensable for production, making it impossible to entirely level out highly volatile raw material prices in the next refining process chain. Several AVK member companies are convinced that Europe is to expect massive price increases for GRP and GMT/LFT by the end of the year. Current prognoses are predicting a two-digit percentage range. Considering the uncertain situation just now, Dr. Uwe Bültjer, Managing Director of the AVK, considers it inadvisable for moulders to enter upon long-term fixed-price obligations with their customers.

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CCM and ARL to Develop Micro-scale Optical Devices

18th November 2005 0 comments

The University of Delaware’s Center for Composite Materials is to work with the Army Research Laboratory on a project to develop micro-scale optical devices in composite materials. When Keith Goossen joined the faculty at the University of Delaware , he brought with him 14 years of industrial experience in the fields of optoelectronics and optical fibre communication, which he is now applying in this new project. For Goossen, whose focus has been on technology rather than systems, leaving industry and joining academia has presented the opportunity to turn his attention toward a feature-based application of that technology rather than focusing simply on improving speed and performance. In his project, the feature-based application is smart materials. “Typically, the term smart material implies embedding of sensors or electronics to enable evaluation of what’s going on in a material,” he explains. “But we’re expanding that definition to encompass materials that can actually perform communication and computing functions.” Goossen has coined the phrase “fabric area network” to capture the concept: “These composites are typically composed of a fibreglass fabric, and our goal is to create a composite structure that comprises a self-contained LAN in itself,” he says. He likens it to a “smart house,” pointing out that with current construction practices, the structural elements of a house are erected, and then the house is wired for computing and telecommunications as an add-on. “Our goal is to integrate these features into the structure so that it’s fully functional for whatever is required by the application.” For the Army, the applications include hulls of tanks, ships, and helicopters. The potential also exists to apply the technology to soldier personal protective equipment, including clothing, armour, and helmets. While the concept of a helmet that incorporates communication and computing functions is certainly intriguing, the path from concept to realization is riddled with challenges, including issues associated with manufacturing and power requirements. Goossen’s industrial experience has sensitized him to the importance of addressing these technology transfer issues as he proceeds through the research. One of his first steps in this project was to work with industry on the feasibility of weaving optical fibers. “This had been done using manual and semi-manual approaches before,” Goossen says, “but we were successful at using a weaving machine to embed the fibres into the fibreglass fabric.” “In itself, that didn’t prove much,” he continues, “because there has to be a way to connect to the fibres once they’re embedded in the composite. So we’re now investigating optical techniques for interfacing with the embedded fibres. Our current work is in the near-infrared range.” The research has demonstrated successful communication into and out of the network optically without a physical connector. “That’s the good news,” says Goossen. “The bad news is that we’re still bringing electrical power in through wires. While wireless technology obviously exists, we want to avoid it for security reasons. Ideally, we’d like to achieve the flexibility of a wireless network with the security of a wired one.” Goossen’s approach to that problem is the use of a transponder comprising a photodiode detector and a laser to send the resulting signal along the embedded cable. “The powerless transponder makes life a lot easier,” says Goossen, “because it can be put anywhere on a structure, and it doesn’t have to penetrate the structure to communicate.” Thus far, inputting of data has been more successful than retrieval, but Goossen is working to determine the best approach for extracting data from the system. Future spinoffs of the technology include remote interrogating of sensors for a myriad of applications. Goossen is also intrigued by the idea of developing an optically capable circuit board. “A circuit board is basically a composite material,” he says. “Five to ten years from now, when the bandwidth catches up with the technology, we can use this capability in high-performance computing by transporting an optical signal along a circuit board.”

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New Carbon Fibre Yacht Components

18th November 2005 0 comments

Ocean Endeavours has launched a range of production composite components for performance and luxury yachts. Ranging from carbon steering wheels to telescopic masts for navigation lights, from ladders to canting keel systems, each ‘standard’ product is said to be manufactured with the same skill and attention to detail as the company’s custom products, ensuring that accuracy, longevity and reliability is consistently achieved. An example of these newly available products is the all carbon ladder for superyachts. Promoted on the Superyacht Docs stand at METS, it features 570mm wide steps with a wide bottom platform, and can be supplied between 2m and 2.5m in length. The use of carbon ensures the ladder is stiff enough to provide a sturdy walkway, yet also keeps the weight low, allowing ease of mounting, dismounting and stowing. The cantilevered design features a simple attachment to the boat making the ladder easy to deploy and stow single handed. Understanding the customisation requirements of superyacht designers and owners, Ocean Endeavours offers the ladder with a choice of finish, incorporating non slip tread surfaces.

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Composites Researchers Manufacture Wind Turbine Blade Prototypes

18th November 2005 0 comments

Researchers in the Composites Laboratory of Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research are currently assembling 10-foot wind turbine blade prototypes for a research project in coordination with Wetzel Engineering and the United States Department of Energy (DOE). Dr. James E. Locke, NIAR Research and Development Director, and Dr. Kyle K. Wetzel have been working together on a $750,000 grant from the DOE. Wetzel Engineering, Inc., principal investigator, is working to develop a six-kilowatt small wind turbine. NIAR’s focus in the project is blade manufacturing and structural testing. Manufacturing efforts for this project began in July 2005, but Locke has been involved with Sandia National Laboratory’s materials and structures wind turbine blade research since 2001 when NIAR began a study of wind turbine blade designs. In the past four years, Locke and Wetzel have collaborated on numerous projects that involve the design and manufacturing of wind turbine blades. Locke has also been involved with the testing of several subcomponents for potential use in wind turbine blades. The current manufacturing team includes Locke, Wetzel, NIAR Research Associate Sanjay Sharma and WSU engineering students Michelle Man, Terrence Seet and Krishna Pai. Many aspects of the current manufacturing process were developed by Sharma in previous research projects for Sandia National Laboratories. “Manufacturing a blade shell is an involved process, particularly when mixing fiber forms and architectures within the mold,”” Locke said. The researchers are faced with the challenge of manufacturing a quality blade for minimal cost in order to minimize the total cost for wind-generated electricity. Manufacturing the blades is dependent on several factors including the air temperature in the lab and the temperature of the blade tooling. When blade manufacturing began in July, the lab air and blade tooling were relatively warm, which resulted in an ideal infusion process. More recently researchers have encountered problems with cooler air temperatures in the lab, which affect the viscosity of the resin used for the infusion process. The resin must maintain a low level of viscosity in order to be infused through the blades using a vacuum system. This setback was solved by using heating elements, which are much like an electric blanket, to heat the molds while the resin is being infused. The research team has manufactured six useable blade shells and plans to finish full-assembly of ten blade prototypes by late November. The prototypes will then be sent to NIAR’s Aircraft Structural Testing and Evaluation Center (ASTEC) on the Raytheon Aircraft campus in Wichita for full-scale structural testing. When the full-scale tests are completed, Wetzel will submit a report to the DOE and Sandia National Laboratories. “Depending on the outcome of this study, we could end up building more blades in the future,” Locke said. He said NIAR has been able to work with Wetzel Engineering, Inc., Sandia National Laboratories and the DOE because of the institute’s variety of laboratories and capabilities and the ability of the facility to do the initial subcomponent testing, manufacturing and full-scale testing.

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Delcam Software helps Composites Manufacturer

18th November 2005 0 comments

Delcam’s Power Solution software is helping Italian composites manufacturer, Plyform, to reduce its costs and its time to market. Plyform is located in the Piemonte-Novara region, from where it supplies the aerospace, communications, automotive, boat building and medical industries. The range of materials used is equally broad, including carbon, Kevlar and glass reinforcement in a variety of resins. The software is also enabling the company to create the increasingly complex components requested by its customers. “The history of Plyform began in 1996, when we began supplying composite structures to the aerospace industry,” stated one of the company’s owners, Gianluigi Grillo. “We now specialise in the automotive and boat-building industries as well. Our most important customers include Agusta, Aermacchi, Alenia, Piaggio Aviation and Ferrari Auto.” “These customers don’t ask for simple systems any more,” continued Mr. Grillo. “They need to design and produce increasingly complex industrial structures. As a result, we have become more and more like a development partner rather than just being the supplier. We have a special role as a co-innovator, able to manage all the different technologies needed to optimise the product. To do this, we use the latest materials and production processes, from CADCAM systems to five-axis machine tools, co-ordinate measuring machines, thermoforming systems and autoclaves of various sizes.” The first challenge is to capture accurately the designer’s idea, whether it is a new body panel, a fuselage’s fairing or any other structural part. To manage the complex geometries involved, the engineering department at Plyform uses Delcam’s PowerSHAPE CAD software. “With this important tool, we’re able to develop projects according to the customer’s needs,” claimed Mr. Grillo. “PowerSHAPE’s hybrid modelling capabilities enable designers to optimise details within the design and to minimise the component’s weight,” added Mr. Grillo. “Then, the close integration between PowerSHAPE and the PowerMILL CAM system enable designs of new parts to be rapidly converted into machining data to mill components or to produce a resin model.”

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Hexcel to Build Carbon Fibre Plant in Europe

18th November 2005 0 comments

On Wednesday Hexcel provided details of its previously announced capacity expansion for carbon fibre, including a new plant in Spain. As part of that program, Hexcel is building a carbon fibre plant near Madrid, Spain. In the United States, the Company is adding an additional carbon fibre line to its Salt Lake City, UT facility and additional capacity at its Decatur, AL facility. The new U.S. line will be aerospace qualified by the end of 2007 and the Spanish line in 2008. These additional carbon fibre manufacturing lines constitute the previously announced $100 million project that will increase Hexcel’s global carbon fibre capacity by about 50%. Approximately half of this capacity expansion will be provided by the new Spanish plant, where one carbon fibre line will be installed initially, with space to add further lines as required to meet demand from new programs. Hexcel is the leader in advanced composite materials for aerospace and also is a leading producer of high strength and intermediate modulus carbon fibres used in military and commercial aircraft, launch vehicles and satellites. Mr. David E. Berges, Hexcel’s Chairman, President and CEO said, “”The large increase in carbon fibre composites usage in commercial and military aircraft is driving Hexcel to expand its manufacturing capacity to support growing customer demand. Hexcel is already the world’s largest producer of intermediate modulus carbon fibre, a type of fibre that is being increasingly specified in new aerospace programs, and we are pleased to establish European manufacturing of carbon fibre to complement our existing and expanded capacity in the United States. With this expansion, we should be very well positioned to support the growth in our European customers’ product requirements such as the full range of Airbus commercial airliners, business jets from Dassault, engine nacelles from Aircelle, helicopters from Eurocopter and other military aircraft from EADS.””

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Spectrum Aeronautical Unveils Next Generation Business Jet

18th November 2005 0 comments

Spectrum Aeronautical was introduced to the aviation community last week with the announcement of its all-composite Spectrum 33 business jet. Development of its new, high performance jet has been kept a tightly guarded secret until now. A prototype Spectrum 33 is a few months away from flight testing. Spectrum is led by industry veteran Linden Blue, who previously held the positions of President and CEO of Beech Aircraft, and Executive Vice President of Gates Learjet. “A very experienced and talented team has created a superior aircraft that incorporates some remarkable materials technology,” said Blue. “We’ve kept the program quiet,” he said, “because everyone wanted to focus intensely on technical development without distractions.” The lightweight airframe is made from three single-piece composite sections – fuselage, empennage and wing – and even has composite spring main landing gear. The aircraft is claimed to replace aluminium and older composites found in many existing aircraft with an advanced, next generation carbon graphite material called fibeX. The result is said to be a very light jet that provides the comfort of a full-sized cabin with performance that matches or exceeds any other aircraft in its class. “Low weight translates directly into higher performance and operating efficiency” Blue said, “so that was one of our top priorities. Reaching that goal called for a fresh approach to aircraft manufacturing. The materials and processes we’ve developed have their origins in conventional approaches, but we have moved beyond the current state-of-the-art,” he said. “Our breakthrough comes in successfully adapting this technology to create a competitive business jet.” Spectrum principals have been working with long-time partner Rocky Mountain Composites for many years on advanced composite aircraft structures. In 1998 several important technical achievements came together, resulting in the launch of the Spectrum 33 program. Since then, Spectrum and Rocky Mountain Composites have been working in close concert on development of the Model 33, its manufacturing processes, and preparations for FAA certification. Spectrum recently acquired 51% of Rocky Mountain Composites, which plans to produce the aircraft in North Spanish Fork, Utah.

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Honeywell's Composite to Armour Sea Knight Helicopters

18th November 2005 0 comments

Honeywell’s Spectra Shield composite material is being used to armour 164 U.S. Marine Corps Sea Knight helicopters.

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Cincinnati Machine's VIPER System Produces One-Piece Fuselage

18th November 2005 0 comments

A VIPER 1200 CNC fibre placement system and off-line composite programming system supplied by Cincinnati Machine have been used to successfully produce a one-piece carbon fiber fuselage developed by a consortium of European firms. The fuselage, measuring 4.5m (14.7′) long by 2m (6.5′) at its widest point, was produced in the UK at BAE Systems Ltd., which is the coordinator of the Full-Barrel Composite Fuselage (FUBACOMP) project. FUBACOMP, an Anglo-French-German composites research program, is dedicated to advancing European capabilities in utilizing fibre placement technology. The $13.2 million (EUR 10 million) FUBACOMP research project funded by the European Union’s Fifth Framework program is aimed at reducing airframe mass through the maximum possible use of composite materials. The one-piece, business jet fuselage, designed by Dassault Aviation in conjunction with BAE Systems, was manufactured using preimpregnated carbon fibre slit tape and honeycomb core. Automated fibre placement enables manufacturability of a single-piece fuselage that can replace typical business jet structures made up of many individual components and thousands of fasteners. Cincinnati Machine’s VIPER fibre placement system used in the manufacture of the FUBACOMP structure combines the advantages of tape laying and filament winding with advanced computer control and software. With its 7 axes of motion, the VIPER system is particularly suited to highly contoured structures. High contour, variable wall thickness, and cut-out sections are all produced to near net configuration. Less material is wasted in the initial lay up and post-process machining and material removal operations are reduced. VIPER fiber placement systems are currently applied in the manufacture of single-piece barrel fuselage sections, including multiple VIPER 3000s for Raytheon’s Premiere 1 and Hawker Horizon aircraft and multiple VIPER 6000s for the Boeing 787, as well as the VIPER 1200 used for the FUBACOMP structure. “”Producing a single-piece composite fuselage structure not only reduces assembly costs, it can also make the aircraft lighter, more efficient to operate, and less prone to fatigue through the elimination of metallic components,”” said Cincinnati Machine’s Ron Hennies, Product Manager for Composites. “”Cincinnati Machine is extremely pleased to have provided the advanced fiber placement technology that enabled the FUBACOMP project engineers to meet their goal of producing improved and more cost efficient aircraft components.””

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