Cranfield University remove layers of cost

A Cranfield University team has developed a process that will dramatically reduce the cost of manufacturing in composite materials.

Composite components are made up layers of polymer resin reinforced with fibres.

They are widely used in aerospace, offering weight reductions of up to 35%. But they are difficult to manufacture; involving hand assembly or expensive laminating machines, and are only cost-effective where lightweight and high-performance are at a premium.

The Cranfield project team, led by Dr Andrew Mills, set out to develop a more cost-effective manufacturing technique.

They identified two barriers: first, the need to make carbon fibre in its cheapest form into a high quality tape – resin with fibre running in one direction, for laminating into the final part – and second, the need for a high speed machine to carry out lamination automatically.

The team has developed a process to make tape for only £21/kg, and a laminating machine capable of laying down tape at 40kg/hour, eight times as fast as existing machines. The machine is expected to cost 20-30% of existing laminating machines.