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Formax celebrates opening of its Innovation Centre

News International-French

9 Sep 2015

This centre strengthens the company's commitment to developing optimised multiaxial fabrics for the automotive, aerospace, marine, sports and industrial markets, and will also enable it to pursue new business opportunities in automated composites manufacture and non-polymer applications.

Located at the company's UK headquarters, the Innovation Centre is Formax's latest investment in its expanding Innovation Department, which is tasked with developing new products and providing technical support to the company's global customer base. Led by Tom James, Director of Innovation, and now employing six staff, the Department has recently restructured into three divisions focusing on Polymer Composites, Automation, and Ceramic Composites.

Polymer composites
The Polymer Composites Division will continue to lead the company's market leading research into optimising multiaxial reinforcements for technically challenging applications. Areas of expertise include testing and characterisation of fabric architecture, developing new products based on novel fabric architecture, and recycling. The group also provides process simulation support in answer to a growing need of customers. Recent additions to the Innovation Centre include a modified ‘picture frame’ fixture and fabric bend testing equipment to aid in the study of fabric drape, and a fabric permeability test rig which can provide estimates of permeabilities at a given volume fraction for use in predicting resin fill time and dry spots.

The Polymer Composites Division is led by Dimitris Karanatsis, who is currently enrolled on an Engineering Doctorate (EngD) programme (Advanced CFRP Simulation for the Development of Fabric Architectures and Process Improvement), in collaboration with the University of Nottingham, UK.

Automation of composites manufacture
Headed by mechanical engineering specialist Christopher Beard, the new Automation Division's activities include fibre pre-processing (including tow spreading), fibre placement for automated net shape 2D preform manufacture, and automated 3D preform manufacture. Equipment includes a carbon fibre testing cell for use in characterisation of tow width, spreadability, filament orientation and filament breakage, and a robot for preforming studies. A fabric ply cutting and kitting service is also available.

The group is currently collaborating with a major automotive OEM, the Manufacturing Technology Centre Ltd in Coventry, the University of Sheffield, and the University of Nottingham, in the ALPA (Affordable Lightweighting through Pre-form Automation) project. With more than £2 million of funding from Innovate UK, this two-year programme is aiming to develop technologies to significantly reduce the cost of using composites in vehicle structures, with a focus on reduced material wastage and automated preform manufacture for resin transfer moulded composite components.

Ceramic composites
The Ceramic Composites Division will pursue non-polymer applications for Formax's technical textiles. Current projects include the combination of novel, low cost ceramics with recycled short carbon fibres for use in high performance, low cost friction applications, and the carbon fibre reinforcement of concrete, bitumen and gypsum for civil engineering use. The Division is led by ceramics expert Dr Arthur Swarbrick, who recently joined the company from the University of Loughborough.

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