From a production engineering perspective, the freedom of design with composite materials offers an interesting possibility of product customization. The material varieties of each constituent, matrix and fiber, as well as the different fiber orientations and layups are some parameters which can be applied to the individual needs of the application. However, this high degree of freedom in design results in the need for more complex and novel production technologies. During the last decades, more and more machines were developed which enable cost efficient production of composites in shorter production times. These technologies mainly focus on mass production of a single optimized composite part in order to fulfill the high demands of industry. Thus, production machines do not utilize the full diversity of composite materials. In order to exploit this diversity, the production machines have to be flexible as well.

Having this in mind, the “LightFlex” project was initiated. Starting in 2015, a consortium of two German research institutes, the Institute of Plastics Processing (IKV) at RWTH Aachen University and the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT, as well as several small-, medium- and large-sized enterprises created a flexible and automated process chain for manufacturing hybrid composite parts for efficient batch size one production. The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Motivated by the automotive industry, the aim of the project is to produce highly functionalized prototypes in order to reproduce comparable mechanical properties as parts need to have in serial production at a later stage. This is achieved by combining 3D printed parts with tailored composite blanks produced by tape placement of unidirectional thermoplastic tapes.

This article appeared in the January–February 2019 issue of Reinforced Plastics.

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