One theme resonated on the first day of CAMX 2019, from the opening general session to education sessions and the exhibit hall: Remaining competitive will increasingly demand automation, digitization and the use of big data. Many exhibitors at this year’s conference are showcasing their solutions to this “Industry 4.0” challenge. Here are just a few:

  1. Toolless Thermoplastic Parts: Mikrosam displayed a proof-of-concept toolless thermoplastic manufacturing process that uses dual robots to create thermoplastic parts without a mandrel. One robot lays up thermoplastic tapes using controlled angles, while a second follows the same path on the opposite side of the part to maintain its shape. The concept was introduced and patented by General Atomics and developed by Mikrosam in collaboration with NASA. So far, the dual robots have been used to fabricate a thermoplastic flat panel and a spherical shape, which was a finalist for a 2019 CAMX Award. Sales Manager Dimitar Bogdanoski says that the new process is aimed at aerospace, where it can greatly reduce tooling costs and help shorten cycle times.

  2. Automated Patch Placement with Self-Corrective Quality Control: Thorsten Gröne, managing director and co-founder of Cevotec, says that his company’s new patch placement system is helping aerospace manufacturers automate. By placing different materials on complex surfaces – such as adhesives and prepreg glass fiber on honeycomb – the system can replace hand lay-up. It also uses cameras to check quality at multiple production points and correct any problems in real time. For example, the system automatically removes unacceptable patches, notices deviations as the gripper picks up the patch and then adjusts the robotic placement arm so the patch is placed in the correct position.

    Recently, the company added pressure sensors. “What we have realized about many complex aerospace parts is manufacturers need to debulk after every second or third layer,” says Gröne. “This debulking takes a lot of time, and that is often because the placement is not done with enough pressure.” Gröne says that a 24-layer test part recently tested 1% void content. “That gives a lot of possibilities,” he says. “Intermediate compaction can be eliminated or significantly reduced, speeding up processing time considerably.”

  3. Fully-Automated Hydraulic Presses, including Mold Changes: Langzauner Head of Sales Alexander Wiesner says that the company’s hydraulic presses are helping customers meet short cycle times through automated mold changing. Traditionally, changing molds – especially hot ones – is a time-consuming task that can take up an entire shift. Wiesner says that Langzauner’s automated process can do it in 15 minutes. “That’s driving the competitiveness of our customers,” he says.