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The company is pioneering the development of the 3D Weaving processes for manufacturing high performance carbon fibre composites.
Axis Composites was spun out of University of Ulster two years ago and has concentrated on computer-based design and development and transferring technology out of the University. However, they have recently commissioned a 3D weaving loom to manufacture prototype 3D fabrics and demonstrate the special properties of these hi-tech textiles. The preform can be woven into a multitude of different widths, thicknesses, patterns, shapes and strengths. The 3rd dimension yarn can vary too in thickness, width and pattern. Composites from 3D fabrics are highly resistant to delamination and that makes them very appealing to manufacturers with strength and weight challenges - and that means not just aircraft companies, but boats, buses, wind turbines and lorries too. Research at Axis has shown that the 3D composite has significantly better performance in several limiting load cases including 15% higher fatigue properties, a mode I interlaminar fracture toughness and crack propagation value of G1C (delamination resistance) up to 20 times higher than the 2D reinforced epoxy laminates. The binder yarns are also largely responsible for 3D woven composites having greatly increased tensile strain-to failure values and better Open-hole properties with very low notch sensitivity. This means that the designer can safely carry a greater load through the composite structure for a given thickness in many scenarios, thus reducing the weight of the structure. It opens a new horizon for the composite designer where some of the traditional conservatisms can be reduced. Many other benefits can be derived from 3D woven composites including cost of manufacturing. Dr Alistair McIlhagger, Senior Lecturer at the University and Technical Director of Axis Composites observes: "by commissioning a weaving loom, we are now able to manufacture prototype 3D fabrics and demonstrate the special properties of these hi-tech textiles. We are building 21st century technologies for aircraft, space vehicles and surveillance drones on the back of hundreds of years of Ulster's industrial weaving heritage". Steven Kirby is Managing Director of Axis Composites and comes from the textile trade himself. "Commissioning the weaving loom gives us an important new capability which will be key to Axis Composites becoming a volume fabric producer itself. Just when traditional weaving is all but finished in Belfast we are starting it up again to make high performance materials". The Loom is based in the NIACE Belfast Dr Scott King, NIACE Centre Manager said, “We pride ourselves in NIACE in enabling our participant companies to carry out complex research using the facilities at the centre. This state of the art 3D loom is a welcome addition to the technologies and knowledge already based here. The possibilities with 3D weaving are endless, with many exciting discoveries already having been made. To have the loom based in NIACE will hopefully lead to new development opportunities with local and foreign companies alike.” Axis Composites will launch its new weaving capability at the end of October, marking the occasion with a special buffet in the NIACE facility for invited guests from the aerospace industries. More information:www.axis-composites.com