Dr Richard Collins, technology analyst at IDTechExm has spoken to the organizers of a composites automation show about his thought on where the industry is heading.

NetComposites spoke to Dr Collins a few weeks before Composites Innovation 2018 – Advances in Automation takes place from 20– 21 June 2018 in Nottingham, UK.

 ‘The composites industry has being growing healthily, but there are still some challenges preventing it from getting to very high volumes,’ he said. ‘The biggest one of these challenges is cost, both from the viewpoint of the raw material (particularly CFRP) and the technical manufacturing. Other challenges that are becoming increasingly significant within the industry are the repair, recovery and reusability of composite parts.

‘Automation can help tackle these problems in two ways,’ he explained. ‘Automation can improve the production efficiency and also allow for more freedom and versatility in design. At present, a  CFRP part can have over 20 times the raw material costs of a conventional metallic part, which is prohibitively high in many cases and not competitive in comparison to some of the lightweight metal contenders. The improved efficiency, most notable for time and waste reduction, can help reduce the total product cost significantly.

Dr Collins said that automation should be available for all.

‘Automation shouldn't be perceived as just the large expensive fiber and tape laying processes, but rather how it can play a role in all stages of the manufacturing, prototyping, and tooling processes,’ he said. ‘I think there are opportunities to embrace different levels of automation for all sizes of business.’
 
He said that processing well suited to automation can be split into manufacturing and prototyping. ‘The role in manufacturing can be extensive, from reducing the time making the preform to whole warehouse optimization. By way of example, an emerging trend is the rise of thermoplastics and overmolded parts; this will result in more opportunities to utilise pick-and-place robots. Prototyping provides very interesting opportunities - design freedom and speed to testing have often been major barriers. Not only will increasing the automation reduce costs, but it will allow customers to engage with composite part manufacturers at a new level. Design suites are always improving and the type of technology that these can interface with vary from more conventional methods to the 3D printing of composite parts.’

This story uses material from Composites Innovation, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier.