Raw materials impact any production process, so it’s critical to ensure material consistency and quality upfront. It’s equally important to monitor material placement.
Material placement in both wet and dry lay-up of numerous production processes varies in production runs. To help prevent these variations, the use of CAD/CAM software to design composites can enable efficient usage of materials and digital simulation products are available to test production processing. Verification of finite element analysis calculations with sensor measurements of actual prototype parts can be used to monitor critical complex composites structures along the production line. Tools for calculating this data are widely accessible to entry level users. Producing parts that meet design requirements results in less scrap and rework and high-quality composite parts.
Production aids can vary from low-cost tooling jigs and fixtures to guide lay-up, along with clear work instructions to use them consistently. Kit cut reinforcements to match lay-up schedules are also commonly used. More complex technology-based solutions include production aids from companies such as Aligned Vision and Faro, which have developed laser projection equipment for operators to guide lay-up and material placement. Automated lay-up technology requires less labor, but more employee expertise on the production line.
Preforming, kit cutting and automated material preparation have a positive impact, especially on dry material composite production steps for infusion and resin transfer molding processes.
Tooling design and production viability are also paramount to successfully rolling out new technologies. Engineers need to keep tooling within operating guidelines and regularly communicate with production personnel to ensure success.
Complex design that can be achieved by a computer rendering or prototype build may not be conducive to repeated preparation, production, demolding and care of composite tooling. Following a design guide and experience with ongoing production floor interaction is critical. Be sure that parts and process engineers have a plan for how the mold can be moved, stored, prepared and maintained effectively in its production environment. Adhering to these guidelines leads to repeated positive influences on production and maintenance cost estimate accuracies throughout the production of the composite part.
Company culture also must be accounted for in moving new technologies to production, including securing buy-in from employees and providing the necessary training and support for composites technicians on the plant floor to implement process improvements. Productivity or growth-based incentive programs help drive buy-in and accountability.
Prototype parts can often be made with a slow and deliberate process utilizing the most experienced production employees. Designers, managers and engineers are familiar and invested in the new product. If that same level of experience, motivation and resources is not translated to production, then repeated success is not ensured.