Prilep, Macedonia, March 2019 – At this year’s JEC World 2019 Show, Mikrosam showcased many advancements in fabrication of thermoplastics composite parts. One such highlight is an automated process for fabrication of thermoplastics composites without the use of any molds or tools. A result of a research cooperation project between Mikrosam, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI, San Diego, CA, US) and Composite Automation LLC, has turned the idea of tool-less in-situ consolidation for thermoplastics into reality.
Mikrosam used its advanced systems for fiber placement (AFP) and tape layup (ATL) to create integrated manufacturing cell with dual robots working in tandem: one robot lays up thermoplastic UD tape, another robot acts as a tool opposite the placement head. The movements of the robots are precise and coordinated to obtain spatial 3D in-situ consolidation across multiple layers. The integration is made possible using Mikrosam’s advanced simulation, control, and automation software MikroPlace and MikroAutomate which allows for multiple robots working as a single cell to produce a composite part. With this integration, Mikrosam overcame many technical challenges to produce 3D composite parts – flat, spherical and bathtub shapes – without additional need for an autoclave. The material placed in space can be held together by a metal frame on one or both ends, depending on the desired final shape. This application of thermoplastic carbon fiber 3D printing presents future opportunities in composites manufacturing in industries where building a new mandrel or tool isn’t always feasible, or requires flexibility, such as aerospace, space, marine, etc.
The success of this multi-robot 3D printing system – a patent-pending innovation – leverages Mikrosam’s advances in producing in-situ consolidated thermoplastic parts over the last several years. The AFP and ATL systems from Mikrosam include not only a laser heating source with precise temperature and angle control, but also a closed-loop feedback with thermal models based on testing numerous materials and shapes. Working together with several Tier 1 aerospace suppliers, Mikrosam’s equipment has produced many thermoplastic parts with better mechanical properties based on this fine control of the layup parameters.
Mikrosam offers one of the most cost-competitive proven AFP solutions on the market with many advancements for maximum productivity. Featuring a multi-material AFP head capable of uni- and bi-directional placement on open 3D shapes and closed mandrel surfaces, such as pipes and vessels. The time-consuming process of switching material and technology to another on a single AFP head is now reduced to minutes: via simple spool change, and replacement of the laser with IR heating source. The automatic head exchange system allows customers to invest in new AFP/ATL heads in the future for use on the same equipment.