-Pros and Cons of Automated Preform manufacturing methods

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In our last post we described three methods to automate dry fiber Preform manufacturing: Pick-and-Place, Dry Automated Fiber placement and Automated Dry Material Placement.

Pick-and-Place (PNP) – Ply patterns are cut on a Table Cutter, “picked up” and then transferred or “placed” into the mold.

Dry Automated Fiber Placement (DAFP) – Similar to prepreg AFP, where bands of narrow unidirectional tapes are placed into the mold, except that the tape is dry (not impregnated). A small amount of binder holds the tapes in place as they are placed under heat and pressure.

Automated Dry Material Placement (ADMP) – Fabric rolls are cut into Ply patterns and placed into the mold, all in one operation and one machine pass over the mold.

PNP, DAFP and ADMP preform manufacturing methods

PNP, DAFP and ADMP preform manufacturing methods

Each of these automation methods provides advantages and disadvantages, as presented below.

Preforming Methods – Pros and Cons

Preforming Methods – Pros and Cons

PNP has been used to produce preforms for some time, and directly mimics the way many prepreg, RTM and infused parts are made today. The industry is comfortable with designing, producing and inspecting CNC cut ply patterns, whether from prepreg or dry fabric forms. Flat pattern shapes of any complexity can be accommodated (internal windows, cutouts, etc.) Instead of manually placing plies in the mold, with PNP this operation is performed by a machine, therefore the complexity of the layup (mold contour, folded flanges, etc) is more limited. Both woven and noncrimp fabric (NCF) styles provide good mechanical properties as well as excellent permeability for complete resin wetout and infusion. A drawback to PNP is that more floor space is needed for both the Table Cutter and the PNP transfer mechanism. If cut plies are not laid directly in the mold (i.e. are stored in kits before layup), PNP requires more ply handling, which makes it more difficult to manage fabric distortion and placement accuracy.

The design practices, machinery and manufacturing approach with DAFP are very similar to prepreg AFP. This familiarity or aerospace “pedigree” makes DAFP attractive because it is a less disruptive process change where AFP equipment is already in use. Other benefits of DAFP include very good properties achieved with unidirectional fiber and the lowest material scrap rate, since each tow is dropped or added exactly as needed. This feature also means that complex patterns can be produced, though there remain limitations associated with minimum cut-and-add length and edge crenulation. The use of individual tapes allows DAFP to conform to complex shapes. The drawback of DAFP is similar to that of AFP – in practice, actual productivity (pounds deposited per hour, i.e. the floor-to-floor or C rate) is relatively low.  The time required to manually inspect every placed tape against the defined drawing often far exceeds the time the machine is actually placing material, and this is another factor in low throughput.

ADMP’s value proposition is that it can achieve very high productivity due to wider materials (than DAFP tow bands), multilayer materials (such as NCF) and pre-made layup schedules provided in the fabric form itself. For example, to produce a balanced, symmetric quasi-isotropic layup only requires 2 passes of an ADMP machine (using a four layer [0/45/-45/90] NCF fabric placed back-to-back) but requires 8 passes of an DAFP machine to produce a [0/45/-45/90]s layup from uni dry tape. Like PNP, the textile forms used in ADMP have very good through thickness infusion properties, but ADMP textile forms do not provide mechanical properties as high as unidirectional tape used in DAFP. The mold contours and ply pattern geometry suitable for ADMP is somewhat more limited than for other methods, and the method has yet to be proven for use in aerospace applications.

So there are many factors and tradeoffs to consider. Nor are PNP, DAFP and ADMP the only ways to automate the Preforming process. Other methods like stitching, 2D and 3D braiding, 3D weaving and others are also being used.  Ultimately the choice of Preforming method, when it comes to automation, depends on the specifics needs of the application and the customer.

One thought on “-Pros and Cons of Automated Preform manufacturing methods

  1. Dan Buckley

    This appears to be a good summary of the options available but there are shortcomings in the descriptions. For example, heat is looked at the common method to set the binders. Heat works but is slow and not terribly selective. AGFM/GFM has patented technology using light curable binders that are extremely fast and in some cases less than a second that then allow for much faster processing. Also, light can be selectively applied allowing the binder to be set as desired and not set when advantageous. The unset binder can be set later when desired. The light curing is especially advantageous when the laminate schedule is complex and difficult. The light cure binders are also compatible with the matrix resins. Due to the extremely fast setting of the binder, the dry material laydown rates can be very high. The preforms can also be cut to net shape to allow high pressure in the molding cavity during infusion. Also because there is no heat in the setting of the binders, thermoplastic veils or thermoplastic skins can be used. Through the use of light, the process can be very friendly and can be customized to meet application needs. Recent tests using tooling mounted LEDs showed cured times as fast as the light can be turned on and off via a toggle switch. Faaaaaaaaaaaast. DAN

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