Larger companies usually lead new technology adoption because they have the necessary hardware and software budgets. But the advent of cloud computing is a game-changer for small to medium-sized organizations.

A recent article from Deloitte noted that the increase of cloud-based and software-as-a-service models for AI and machine learning (ML) have made the technologies more affordable for midsize and small companies, which are taking advantage of the opportunity to digitally transform their businesses.

A variety of AI solutions are becoming available to composites manufacturers. Here are just a few.

Speeding Tool Production

Designing and manufacturing tooling is often a costly, time-consuming process and a big barrier when it comes to OEMs choosing composites over steel and metal for components, says Martin Oughton, CEO and co-founder of Plyable. His company has developed a cloud-based, AI software that speeds this process.

A customer uploads a CAD file of its desired composite component into Plyable’s online software tool and indicates its preference for material, tolerances, manufacturing method, finish and delivery date. The system’s ML algorithms automate the tool design process, assessing different tool geometries before choosing the best option. The AI software then draws upon an extensive database of supplier information to develop a quote based on the tool’s size and geometry and on up-to-the-minute material prices and market conditions. The entire process, from design to quote, takes less than a minute.

Once the client accepts the quote – usually three to five days – Plyable sends the bid out to its network of carefully screened tooling providers, which includes more than 1,500 five-axis CNC machines and some additive manufacturing options as well. The jobs are awarded quickly, on a first-come, first-serve basis, and production begins almost immediately. The client can use Plyable’s system to track the tool’s progress and review production and inspection reports.

Oughton says that smaller Tier 2 and Tier 3 aerospace suppliers, as well as OEMs and Tier 1 companies have already used the AI tooling system. He believes that technologies like these will improve composites’ competitive position.

“Composites have long been talked about as the material of the future, but I think they are in danger of always being just the material of the future, not the material of now,” says Oughton. He asserts Plyable’s technology is open to all companies and can lower the barriers to a wider adoption of composite solutions.

Automating Inspection Processes

Automated fiber placement (AFP) has significantly improved the production rates and quality of composites manufacturing. “But due to the lack of reliable, in-process inspection technologies, AFP processes are currently interrupted intermittently for manual inspections – anywhere from 20% to 70% of production time,” says Waruna Seneviratne, director of the Advanced Technologies Lab for Aerospace Systems (ATLAS), National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR).