Real-time Material Measurements and Process Control in Automated Fibre Placement Composites Manufacture

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Aerospace Engineering

Abstract

Advanced composite materials and structures are an important technology for future UK economic success. The Composites Leadership forum predicts the UK has the potential to grow its current £2.3bn annual market to £12bn by 2030. Processes that manufacture parts right-every-time at high-rate are needed to take advantage of the potential growth in this sector.

The aim of this project is to connect material data to process models in real-time, in order to deliver highly automated and robust composites manufacturing processes. In the same way that autopilots keep aircraft flying through turbulence, this grant proposes to develop an equivalent 'autopilot' for advanced composite manufacturing process to detect material disturbances and respond before defects occur.

This idea will be delivered by designing and building a new, well-controlled testbench, and using it to demonstrate active process control software. Sensors will be selected and installed on the testbench to measure key material and process variables before, during, and after the material is deposited. Variables that will be monitored include composite material thickness and width, process speed, temperature, and pressure. The sensor data will be analysed in real-time by mathematical models to determine whether the incoming material will make the structures that was designed. New software will be written and tested to interface with the testbench hardware, overcoming current sensor integration barriers encountered with proprietary industrial equipment. If the mathematical simulation deviates from the intended design, the process will be adjusted to overcome any unwanted deficiencies. The sensing developments, process models, and control software will be validated by manufacturing trials using ideal and imperfect materials.

The outputs of the project will be a highly-instrumented, finely controlled testbench that exceeds current industrial composite deposition machines. The high-resolution data collected in this grant will support validation of existing numerical models or identify new requirements for process models. The process models and control algorithms will be written in non-proprietary programming languages, enabling other researchers to build-upon the work done in this grant. The process models and control codes will be managed on Github (a web-based software development platform), and made open source once reaching the appropriate maturity. Future research will investigate the processing characteristics of new materials, add new algorithms for other processes, or apply machine learning approaches to the digital platform created in this project.

Industrial project partners Coriolis Composites, Hexcel Composites, the National Composites Centre, and Rolls-Royce will bring practical manufacturing interests and benefit from an accelerated design-make-test cycle for composite structures. An academic collaboration with the Technical University of Munich will strengthen experimental characterisation and testing, and numerical modelling of composite manufacturing processes.

Planned Impact

Commercial Organisations - In addition to enhancing their academic engagement, the industrial partners will be positioned to develop new composite materials, machinery for automated manufacture, and lightweight composite products from the research outputs at lower financial risk. Showcase events, such as the ACCIS annual conference, dissemination events at the National Composites Centre, and exhibits at the Advanced Engineering Show will offer opportunities to a much broader spectrum of potentially collaborating companies and other organisations.

UK Composites Industry - The National Composites Centre (NCC), one of seven High-Value Manufacturing Catapult centres, is a place for trying out ideas before moving into production. Neither the NCC nor its 50 members can afford to develop new procedures for every new material, part, or process parameter when manufacturing technology demonstrators. The process sensing and control development in this grant will help UK industry (via the NCC) be better positioned to avoid costly downstream scrap and re-work, accelerate the design-make-test cycle to quickly insert new products unique to each customer, and developing a more flexible UK manufacturing base.

UK Economy and Society - Engineering and high-value manufacturing are strategic areas for the UK. The composites sector currently contributes £2.3B to the UK economy and the Composites Leadership Forum has projected this to grow to up to £12B by 2030. This projection may be influenced by next generation single-aisle wings and large aero-engine fan blades being designed and manufactured in the UK. Everyone will benefit from the reduced noise and pollutants that will come from these new aircraft and engines. The UK Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) estimates that if next-generation aero wings and turbo-fan engines are designed and made in the UK, this has the potential to create or safeguard 115,000 UK aerospace jobs, representing an annual average £75,000 gross added valued to the economy from each highly-skilled job. The underpinning technologies and expertise developed in this project will support the drive to design and manufacture these lightweight components in the UK, creating new, higher-paid, higher-skilled jobs.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Industrial consortium 
Organisation Hexcel Composites Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The research team is developing an instrument to study advanced materials and manufacturing processes relevant to the partners.
Collaborator Contribution The partners are providing staff time for technical experts to attend and actively participate in project review meetings, and to provide advice and industrial relevance throughout the project.
Impact No outcomes yet.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Industrial consortium 
Organisation National Composites Centre (NCC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The research team is developing an instrument to study advanced materials and manufacturing processes relevant to the partners.
Collaborator Contribution The partners are providing staff time for technical experts to attend and actively participate in project review meetings, and to provide advice and industrial relevance throughout the project.
Impact No outcomes yet.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Industrial consortium 
Organisation Rolls Royce Group Plc
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The research team is developing an instrument to study advanced materials and manufacturing processes relevant to the partners.
Collaborator Contribution The partners are providing staff time for technical experts to attend and actively participate in project review meetings, and to provide advice and industrial relevance throughout the project.
Impact No outcomes yet.
Start Year 2020
 
Description CIMComp Hub Synergy Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Discuss synergies with EPSRC Future Composites Manufacturing Hub
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Metrology workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Three directors from an SME and five Reseachers from UoB participated in a incoming and outgoing workshop to discuss robotic positional accuracy in manufacturing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021