Fiberforge began 12 years ago and commercializes a manufacturing process that turns thermoplastic prepreg tape into finished parts. It relies heavily on automation and thermoforming, and has found success in the high performance market, even though its original focus was in automotive.
What is your relationship to the composites industry?
We sell design and engineering services to prototype applications, and also produce parts as part of that. We also sell turnkey manufacturing systems based on this technology. Some customers want to bring their technology in house and we work with them to develop the system. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a dedicated system for each part. Some customers might have six different end applications they make on one system.
How does your technology work?
It is very much a platform technology. Our station automates the lay-up of tape into a flat preform that is spot-welded together (called a “tailored blank”). The station can run nearly any thermoplastic prepreg tape, such as tape made from glass fiber and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Following lay-up, the tailored blank is removed from the station and heated and cooled under pressure to fully consolidate the flat blank. This step removes the voids between the plies and results in a custom tailored reinforced thermoplastic structural laminate. Next, the blank is heated in an infrared oven and once the resin reaches a molten state, the blank is shuttled into a thermoforming press where matched metal forming tooling (that’s designed for the final part shape) rapidly forms the part while the resin around fibers freezes/crystallizes. The result is a fully engineered structural composite.
How does your process differ from competing technologies?
Other competitive approaches use hand lay-up to lay up their materials. So our process competes with that as well as other ways used to make a flat pre-form. Some companies’ laminates are made on double belt presses using a textile approach, where you take woven fiber and impregnate it with the same thermoplastic resin in the laminating process or double belted press and stamp large thickness panels with standard fiber orientations. What’s missing is the ability to have fiber orientations and lay-ups; furthermore, the scrap waste is much higher with that process.
Where did you initially target this technology?
The company was initially started to attack the lightweighting opportunity in automotive because we saw the need for advanced composites in this market. The first five years were focused on coming up with this patented process and commercializing it in automotive. However, about four years ago we decided to focus on other markets it was mature enough to go into.