At every stage in the process, the system itself – without human assistance – checks the quality of the tapes, the stacks and the laminates to look for flaws. If a defective tape section is identified, the system can quickly remove and replace it with a good section of tape to keep the line running. If a laminate has a flaw, the system can detect the defect and discard as well.

At full capacity, the DCML can produce as many as 1.5 million parts annually. That should appeal to new customers in the consumer electronics industry, who are attracted by the light weight, sustainability and appearance of composites but have been wary of using them because of the insufficient consistency of quality in mass production, says Francato.

SABIC and Airborne will continue to upgrade the DCML. One improvement could be the addition of machine learning capabilities to make the process more flexible and cost efficient.

Digital Duplicates

AI-based decisions like these are possible because of digital twins, which are exact digital replicas of objects, processes or systems that exist in the physical world. In composites production, engineers can use digital twins to test drive their designs and simulate how they will work in the real world under a variety of conditions. In manufacturing, operators would be able to look at digital twins to determine how an engineering change or a new process would impact the production line. “If I had the ability to have a fully-simulated shop floor and a variable changed, I could quickly run a simulation so I would know where the issues are going to be,” says Meeker.

Once a product is manufactured, the data it collects and relays to its digital twin could help owners track its performance and determine if a product requires maintenance or has a part that might be failing.

Creating truly accurate digital twins can be difficult. “To be able to do it, you have to have a full spectrum of the product data in the design world and in the manufacturing world; you have to have everything represented digitally,” Meeker explains. He believes that more equipment manufacturers will create digital models of their products and make them available to customers as they realize the value in them.

Artificial Intelligence

Plataine offers intelligent digital assistants that use AI to help composites manufacturing companies increase production and improve efficiencies. “It starts with planning and scheduling the various work orders and jobs and continues with tight monitoring of the progress of the manufacturing processes,” says Ben-Assa. “AI can provide alerts, predictions and recommendations that are very helpful in the composites manufacturing environment, which is complex and dynamic.”