In the value chain of resin transfer molding (RTM), the transport of the fiber mat for the production of fiber reinforced plastics (FRP) has not been a step in the process which adds additional value. A newly designed draping gripper system allows the finished fiber mat or reinforcement material can be shaped into the desired form during transport. This improvement is an important step on the way towards streamlining the production of FRP though the RTM process.
3D-transformation during transit
The research prototype of the new system was developed by a German research group supported by industrial firms and research institutions in Germany. The draping gripper system allows two dimensional textile materials to be lifted and formed to the desired three dimensional shape during the transit to the injection unit. The Development Agency for Lightweighting Baden-Wuerttemberg is proud to present this innovation as its August ThinKing. The Leichtbau BW GmbH hands out this distinction each month to feature impressive products and innovations in the lightweighting sector in Baden-Wuerttemberg, a federal State in the southwest of Germany.
This new process allows the processing step of preforming to be fully integrated into the transportation phase for components with relatively subtle three dimensional contours. The two steps of preforming and transporting the fiber mat, which have so far always been separate processes, can now be combined for greater efficiency.
Preforming influences quality and production Speed
The intelligent automation of the preforming process can help reduce production time and improve the quality of the resulting products. Both of these benefits lead to reduced costs and increased implementation of FRP. The preforming process itself has a significant impact on the quality and speed of the production and has a comparatively large influence on the final manufacturing costs of the product, comprising ca. twelve percent of the end costs.
The RTM value chain offers huge potential for the mass production of FRP components. As part of the production process, preforming – the shaping of fiber reinforcement material from a 2D to a 3D structure – is one of the crucial steps. The actual shaping in industrial manufacturing has so far been done largely through manual procedures.
Manufacturing of diverse shapes possible through a pixilated Approach
The draping gripper technology can also simplify the production of components with complex three dimensional contours which require several steps for their final formation. The first shaping procedure can, for example, be carried out during the transport by the draping gripper unit which is made up of several so-called pixels.
The draping gripper system was developed by a research group established between the German companies Schunk GmbH & Co. KG and J. Schmalz GmbH from the industrial sector and the wbk Institute of Production Science at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). The Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts subsidized the joint research project “Technology Developments in the RTM Value Chain for the Economic Production of Hybrid Components” – HyPro from 1 June 2014 until 31 May 2016. The industrial partners involved in the draping gripper project are interested in the further development of the system in preparation for the commercial market.