Aerospace Adopts AFP
AFP technology is currently being used in the aerospace industry to make parts up to 100-feet long. According to the NCC, other industries could utilize the AFP machine but robotic deposition would not be applicable to very high-rate deposition. While the aim is to use this technology to create parts faster, the primary benefit is its ability to generate complex geometries demanded by part optimization. AFP is likely to be useful in other large scale, high-performance components.
The investment made by the NCC saves its industry partners money and helps them learn about the new equipment. “Developing future concepts and optimizing processes is something companies need to do when introducing new products or re-engineering existing ones,” says Peter Chivers, chief executive at the NCC. “This equipment is expensive. It’s also inefficient to interrupt existing manufacturing lines, and hard for most companies to justify the acquisition of equipment just for development purposes.”
Aerospace companies are optimistic that the AFP machine will lead to larger breakthroughs due to collaboration. The NCC has already become a focal point for aerospace industrial partners to work together without boundaries, according to GKN Aerospace in Redditch, England.
GKN Aerospace began working with robotic AFP technology in 2009 when the company started developing a composite fan blade. It owns a gantry AFP machine and has continued to use the technology to manufacture the next Airbus A350 rear wing spars. GKN Aerospace uses the AFP machine at the NCC to improve its own processes and work on prototype wing boxes for next-generation wing aircrafts. GKN expects to have models of the wings ready by 2015.
The Future of AFP
NCC hopes to be the hub of the United Kingdom’s efforts to develop and implement rapid composite manufacturing technologies and systems. The AFP machine provides a great start. “We’re seeing a huge response from mainly aerospace companies interested in optimization for current products and exploring product design for future processes,” says Chivers. But to move automated fiber placement technology forward, the equipment needs to be more affordable for manufacturers.
The NCC believes that over time the cost of the machine will decrease as demand rises. The center recently purchased a second AFP machine with a gantry-type system to give companies further insight into different automated processes.
As for GKN, it hopes to gain a better understanding of how to design and program using tape placement as well as develop improved methods for putting down more material in a shorter timescale. High-rate manufacturing in future automated robotic deposition will be essential to achieve the rates of building that are necessary to remain competitive, according to the company.