Five innovations that made news in 2017 aim to upset the status quo.

Disruptive technologies can change the business landscape by creating new markets or transforming existing ones. In the fast-paced composites market, new materials, processes and applications crop up frequently. As the year winds down, let’s take a look at five disrupters from 2017. Some of them have widespread implications for markets like automotive and aerospace, while others seem more fanciful. (How would you like to wear a composite exosuit that makes you stronger and more efficient?) But they all could change the industry, if not tomorrow then sometime down the road.

The Disrupter: The Fast RTM System

Broader Implications: The potential to mass produce structural composite automotive parts.

One of the biggest hurdles to widespread use of composites in automotive production is productivity rates. A consortium of industry partners has developed an automated process capable of producing composite structural parts in a two-minute cycle time, a critical industry metric.

The consortium is led by a French institute, IRT M2P (The Institutes of Technological Research – Materials, Metallurgy and Processes). The long list of partners is evidence that collaboration is key to success in today’s highly complex world, with each one bringing specific expertise to the table: PINETTE P.E.I (press system and platform integration), Arkema and Hexion (resins), Chomarat (reinforcement materials), Compose (tooling), SISE (thermoregulation systems) and the Institut de Soudure (closed mold process). The project also received support from OEM partners and Tier 1 suppliers Renault, Faurecia and Hutchinson, which provided integration and design expertise.

“These companies represent the whole composite sector – material suppliers, equipment suppliers, composites experts and end users,” says Maxime Kowalski, composites activities manager at IRT M2P. “The whole consortium worked together to provide the solutions that would make the project a success.”

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The Fast RTM system, shown here with a GFRP demonstration part in front, is capable of producing 500,000 structural parts a year on a single work cell. Photo Credit: IRT M2P

The goal of the consortium, which began its work in 2013, was to develop an industrial-scale platform capable of producing net shape, functional, structural parts up to 3 me2 (more than 32 square feet). At the heart of the system – called Fast RTM – is PINETTE’s ECS-PRESS (Eco, Compact, Sustainable). The short-stroke press has two six-axis robots for material handling and allows for compression resin transfer molding (C-RTM) – essentially a combination of compression molding and resin transfer molding.