The machine, which is based on Festo electrical drives and controls, has a 3D operating envelope and is capable of laying carbon fibre tow very flexibly, at up to 8m/s.
Manchester’s Textile Composites Group is pursuing an approach called near-net shaping. This method creates very strong parts, but until now has been slow and created up to 40 per cent materials wastage.
Dr Prasad Potluri, Reader in Textile Composites said: ‘We were looking for new ways of laying tow in predefined patterns. For the aerospace industry, we needed to develop lab-scale processes for products that can be 3m long and 2m wide, with a height of up to 500mm. So we required equipment capable of operating on a large scale and with great precision, which could also handle heavy spools of carbon fibre tow. We were also looking for fast operation, so the equipment had to be highly automated.’
To develop the flexible solution it wanted, the team sought funding from Northwest Composite Centre, a centre set up by the Northwest Regional Development Agency.
The team then looked for an automation specialist capable of designing and delivering the 3D spatial gantry system which would form the heart of the Textile Composite Group’s new machine.
Potluri said: ‘We are specialists in carbon fibre production, not robotics. We chose Festo because of the company’s sheer range of motors and drives. We just specified our requirements, and Festo built a complete motion solution, right down to the control system and the software to operate it. Festo personnel also programmed and commissioned the system, and trained our post graduate PhD students on its use. As a result, we had a working solution up and running with minimum risk and hassle.
‘We expect to be laying tow automatically on the machine and testing new processes and technologies within six months.’