Today’s automated composite layup machinery and software has many similarities with the state of the CNC metal-cutting industry of the 1950’s and 60’s. The technology is difficult to adopt for all but the largest manufacturers because of the high infrastructure costs. The process technology is complex and only understood by few. And, software is generally provided by machine manufactures, with different software required for each machine brand, resulting in limited software implementation and advances.
Overview and Glossary of Terms
Composite Manufacturing Overview and Glossary of Terms
Composite material usually consists of a woven fiber material, something like cloth, made of fiberglass, graphite, carbon-fiber, or other fiberous material. This material may be pre-impregnated with a glue or resin. The material can be very flexible, or can be relatively stiff.
Typically the material is applied to a form or mold that represents the shape of the final piece. The material is applied in layers with each layer applied at a different angle to the previous layer. Each composite layer has an isotropic stress characteristic (i.e. is structurally strong in one direction). The layering process makes the finished piece structurally strong in all directions. After the layers are applied the piece is in an uncured or “green” condition.
During material application a bonding-agent (glue or resin) is added to each layer, or it is already pre-impregnated in the material. The “green” piece is then cured to harden the bonding-agent. The curing often happens in a oven, also called an autoclave. During oven “baking” the bonding agent liquefies and flows through the layers of material, creating a single coherent structure.
After curing or baking the piece must typically be cut or trimmed to the final shape, and possibly other machining operations (milling, drilling, turning, etc) must be done to complete it. Composite cutting is also done using waterjet or ultrasonic knife technology.
Composite material can produce very strong and light structures. In many cases they are cheaper to manufacture than metals or plastics, especially where strength and lightweight are required. But composite manufacturing requires complex processes involving chemical, mechanical, and thermal technologies and expertise. And the raw material itself often has critical storage requirements (temperature, humidity, shelf-life, etc). Hence use of composite materials is not wide-spread and can be considered a “new” technology, even though it has been around for many years.
Composite components are used in aerospace, aircraft, and automotive products. They are also present in sports and recreation products such as tennis rackets, golf clubs, bicycles, motorcycles, and various high-end racing components. Composite components are frequently not covered with paint or other coatings, so the composite fibers are visible and create fear and envy in fellow competitors.
Material application processes
The following processes can be used to create a composite piece.
Composite Software FAQs
CGTech is often contacted and referenced by industry publications. Following are few of the questions we’ve been asked. Responses are provided by CGTech’s Product Marketing Manager. Have a question of your own? Ask us