But most small to medium-sized companies don’t have the computing power to work with such complex models. So Purdue has put this connected package of codes online in the Composites Virtual Factory HUB, which allows users to log in and run composite simulations online. This online modeling program can be used only by IACMI members for IACMI projects, but Pipes believes that a commercial version will be available in about three years.

Pipes notes that the ability to predict composites’ behavior from complex models is especially important for 3-D printing applications. Using simulations, Purdue researchers were able to predict the performance characteristics of 3-D printed tools. They could look at the way that the carbon fibers in the tool would orient with the direction of deposition and at how the tool would change shape as it cools.

“When you can predict that, you can design the tool to be the right shape after it cools, which is what you want the part to look like,” says Pipes. The combination of modeling and additive printing will change composites manufacturing, because together they provide the ability to make tooling prototypes quickly – often overnight.

Modeling has the potential to unlock a whole new range of opportunities, says Olivares. “If you want to innovate, it’s very hard to do through physical testing because of the limitations of budget and time,” he says. “If we really want to introduce new composites, new materials into industry, we need to find a way to be able to properly simulate them with minimal costs from a coupon and a component level testing point of view.”