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A second life for production scrap

News International-French

2 Mar 2017

Production scrap and end-of-life products are a real challenge for the future of composites. The main goal of the WASTEcost project is to find a solution to upgrade waste from carbon-fibre-reinforced composites in order to manufacture an ecoproduct.

Airbus A350 vertical stabilizer mock-up - Stelia Aerospace/Rescoll
Carbon’s low-weight and strength properties are now well-known, and carbon is being used more and more in leading industries, like transportation (e.g. aviation, automotive), renewable energies (e.g. wind turbine blades), and competitive sports (e.g. sailing, Formula 1).

Used to reinforce a resin – usually epoxy – it makes the end product remarkably more stable and durable over time. As paradoxical as it may seem, these advantages also constitute a disadvantage insofar as there are currently few industrially viable solutions for recycling waste from this material (production scrap, part trimming) and carbon-containing products that reach end of life as, for example, will be the case for the Airbus A350 (52% carbon) when its operating life is over. In this context, research company Rescoll applied its earlier research (refer to JEC Magazine issues 85 and 90) towards the launch of the WASTEcost project a year ago. The project’s main goal is to find a solution to upgrade the waste from carbon-fibre-reinforced composites in order to create an ecoproduct.

A chain of partners
The two-year project is financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and led by Rescoll in partnership with Stelia Aerospace, C3Technologies, and the Marcel Dassault secondary technical school for plastics processing in Rochefort. Through this project, the technological, techno-economic and environmental issues involved are explored. 

That is the framework around the project. On the technical side, one of the upgrade challenges concerns the mechanical grinding of the carbon/epoxy composite waste, which is a key step in breaking the waste down to a size where it can be integrated into a thermoplastic resin as reinforcement. Rescoll currently uses this new compound (its excellent mechanical properties will be presented later on) to manufacture a yarn dedicated to additive manufacturing. After months spent perfecting this unusual blend and optimizing the different methods for processing it, Rescoll is now focusing on 3D printing of a plastic yarn reinforced with carbon/epoxy composite.

Additive manufacturing
The first conclusive tests took place in Rescoll’s plastics processing laboratory, but to test the reinforced yarn on oversized parts, it was necessary to call on other experts in France’s Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. For this new phase, the IMA resource centre for aviation maintenance engineering in Mérignac and VLM Robotics in Mios joined Rescoll. 

Early this year, the WASTEcost project team launched production of an Airbus A350 mock-up using the reinforced yarn – in a way, closing the loop, since the waste itself comes from the Airbus A350 manufacturing process within the Stelia Aerospace group. 

The 3D-printed airplane is a meter long, for an equivalent wingspan. The IMA and VLM Robotics pooled their human and material resources to perfect a printing technique compatible with both the material and the prototype dimensions, with spectacular results: a printing head mounted on a KUKA robot enables movement over long distances as the molten yarn is deposited.

Ecoproducts
The WASTEcost prototype represents real technological progress, and has been selected as one of the innovations on the Aerospace Planet at the JEC World on 14-16 March 2017.

As the project’s “spearhead”, the prototype draws the contours of two future ecoproducts that have been selected by Stelia Aerospace, and which will soon be manufactured by the WASTEcost consortium. The group would also like to move towards an ecodesigned version of interior cabin elements using the carbon/epoxy composite waste.

Rescoll will display the 3D-printed Airbus A350 mock-up the Aerospace Planet and will exhibit Hall 6, Stand M62 at JEC World.

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