JEC Group have brought together the international community of composites leaders and executives in our Composites Circle as an unique networking opportunity to meet with both peers and future partners.
With increasing pressure to accelerate product development, reduce manufacturing costs and improve output whilst maintaining high quality, health and safety compliance, the composites industry is faced with numerous challenges. The renewable energy industry – both wind and marine – has provided fertile ground for innovation in materials, processes and design. Solent Composite Systems Ltd (SCS) has developed a design and manufacturing system that addresses these rapidly evolving needs.
(Published on August-September 2005 – JEC Magazine #19)
Cost-effective production is one of the main targets to increase volumes, develop new markets and become more profitable. Meeting these challenges requires the combined effort of engineers, designers, materials suppliers and the manufacturer. By adopting the integrated SmartMould™ approach, it is possible to manufacture a product with optimum design from the right materials, using the most efficient manufacturing process.
Each mould is produced to satisfy a very specific set of requirements. The SmartMould™ approach works best with the mould maker involved at the earliest possible stage in the product development. This way, mould design can evolve with the product design. To successfully achieve the right process, the mould maker must have a good understanding of the entire production cycle. The design stage of the product life-cycle governs the form of the product and the composite materials from which it will be produced. Further development confirms the type and arrangement of the fibres, the selection of the resin system and ultimately a process to convert the raw materials into the final product.
Wind turbine blades represent one of the success stories for the industry which has increased market demand for longer blades. Blade manufacturers are moving away from wet lay-up processes to ensure that the several tonnes of materials used in a blade can be processed safely and quickly. As a result, the raw materials have changed to prepregs and both wet and dry infusion materials.
Within this rapidly changing environment, there is the need to continually reduce costs and increase output. As final refinements are made, the focus switches to the mould as a means to deliver further improvements.
At present, blade moulds incorporate several common features. These include a structural steel framework to support each shell during processing, a mechanical closing mechanism to bring the shells together forming the blade shape, and several ancillary systems such as vacuum and a resin delivery and heating system.
As a consequence of size, these moulds are often stand-alone manufacturing systems and as such need to be sufficiently robust to permit daily process cycles with a minimum of maintenance downtime. They must offer the blade manufacturer the means to reliably produce blades with the minimum number of operators in the shortest possible duration.
An integrated approach
The SmartMould™ approach starts with a clear understanding of the proposed blade design and manufacturing process. This is obtained through discussions with engineers, designers and processing professionals within the blade manufacturer’s organization.
Details concerning the shape, finish, structure, and manufacturing process are used to develop a detailed specification for the Rotor Blade Manufacturing System (RBMS™). This specification, along with dialogue with the blade manufacturer, will optimize blade production.
New opportunities and challenges
Having agreed the RBMS™ specification, engineering, design and development work begins to achieve the mould performance requirements. Any number of the following options are available:
But what of the future?
As blades become longer, the moulds themselves will become larger and heavier. The moulds will be required to process a larger quantity of materials in an increasingly rapid cycle time. Such moulds will need to produce a variety of blades with minimum downtime.
To achieve this, the SmartMould™ approach offers the necessary improvements to current practices. These include automation for safe materials handling, improved processing and fast de-moulding. Delivery of one-shot manufacturing processes to increase output and eliminate finishing as well as modular design permitting blade alternatives by only changing parts of the mould such as the tip or root sections. Self monitoring both for blade processing records and for RBMS™ maintenance purposes and increasingly elevated temperature performance for more rapid cure of the blade. The constant drive towards lower cost and increased production output creates a continual need for faster, higher temperature processing of the composite product, finished components out of the mould requiring no further work, automated materials handling and processing capability, and data gathering and storage of quality records for each item produced from the mould. The SCS SmartMould™ approach ensures integration of engineers, designers, materials suppliers and the manufacturer to deliver high-quality, cost-effective composite components that are competitive. With this approach, the composites industry may secure more work from a wide range of markets and customers, who are becoming ever more aware of the value and benefits offered by composites when compared to more traditional materials.