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Precimould (PRECIsion MOULDing), a combined distortion prediction software and database package aimed at improving tool design for the production of accurate composite components, won the Software category accolade in the JEC Group’s ‘Award Winning Innovation’ 2008.
Precimould is the result of a collaborative research programme called Precimould Plus, a project involving Advanced Composites Group Ltd (ACG) – part of the Composites Division of Umeco plc., Finite Element Analysis Ltd (FEA), BAE Systems and Bombardier Aerospace (Shorts). Funding support was provided by the UK Government under the Aeronautics Research Programme from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), with the project building on the output of a previous one initiated by ACG and supported by the European Commission as a BRITE/EURAM 3 project under Framework 4.
The aim of the project was to develop and validate a software package to define the accuracy of predicted laminate composite part distortion during processing, reverse engineer the surfaces and apply the simulation to complex structures. Benefits derived from the technology include design confidence to predict and remove distortion, thereby reducing scrap and reworking assembly costs.
In effect, the designer can use the information about part distortion and put this to good use by creating a mould or pattern that compensates for distortions during manufacture of the mould and the final manufactured part. The process starts with the manufacture of an ‘incorrectly-shaped’ tool that can then be used to manufacture ‘correctly-shaped’ parts direct from the mould or pattern. The key to this ‘distortion prediction’ software suite is the engine embedded within the finite element software ‘LUSAS’, developed by Finite Element Analysis Ltd. Supporting this software is a database of material properties describing a range of resin systems manufactured by ACG. Together, these elements provide the designer with the tools to manufacture ‘right first time’ parts.
It is estimated that, in airframe applications, 50% of the costs associated with composite parts occur during the assembly process. This is generally due to the cumulative distortion present on individual components and the time associated with the rework and shimming processes required to accommodate these errors and integrate the parts in an assembly. It is reported that up to 200 kg of shimming can be used to correct errors due to component distortion. Use of the Precimould simulation can lead to a significant reduction in costs and overall weight.
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