“Our capability is ideal for sectors where highly-tailored design of composite structures is needed”

Digital manufacturing of high-performance composite structures is being pioneered by Australian startup New Frontier Technologies Pty Ltd. Dr Paul Compston, Director and CEO, describes the company and its innovative approaches to design, automated manufacture and digital twinning. This interview has been published in the JEC Composites Magazine N°155.

“Our capability is ideal for sectors where highly-tailored design of composite structures is needed”

3 minutes, 60 secondes

JEC Composites Magazine: Could you introduce New Frontier Technologies to us?
Paul Compston: New Frontier Technologies Pty Ltd. (NFT), a privately-owned com­pany based in Canberra, Australia, has been operating since early 2022. Its focus is digital manufacturing of carbon-fibre composites with expertise in structurally-efficient design, additive manufacture and digital twinning of high-performance components and structures. We are a team of 12 engineers and data scientists with many years of R&D and commercialisation experience in research organisa­tions and industry sectors such as space, aerospace, automotive and energy.

JEC Composites Magazine: What are the benefits of NFT’s advanced manufactu­ring solutions for high-performance composites?
Paul Compston: Our focus on auto­mation and digitalisation of advanced composite manufac­turing enables rapid design and development cycles for inno­vative composite components (Figure 1). Production is possi­ble in low or high volumes using our dual-laser automated tape placement (laser-ATP) process from our technology partner

AFPT GmbH. In particular, we can develop structures with highly-tailored performance characteristics through pre­cision placement and in situ consolidation of carbon-fibre/ thermoplastic tapes. For the space sector, for example, we are producing structurally-efficient gridded rocket bodies.

Fig. 1: Additive manufacture of a structurally-efficient gridded carbon-fibre/PEEK rocket body using laser-ATP © New Frontier Technologies

We also designed and manufac­tured a composite structure with a highly-tuned thermal behaviour for a telescope. Its innovative design ensures zero dimensional change in the direction aligned with the mirrors over a wide operating temperature range, which eliminates the need for refocussing during observations.

Another key feature of our capability is 3D diagnostics and digital twinning based on X-ray computed tomog­raphy (CT), for unsurpassed characterisation of quality indicators such as voids (content, size and distribu­tion), fibre volume fraction and orientation.

A volumetric mesh can then be applied to the digital twins for high-fidelity finite element (FE) performance simulation of the as-manu­factured component rather than an idealised model. The application of X-ray CT is often limited by the size of the components that can be X-rayed, but we developed a multi-scaling imaging ap­proach for larger structures (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: Digital twin of a carbon-fibre/PA6 component showing the imaging, analysis and simulation stages

JEC Composites Magazine: How does your NFT solutions help match mass production goals with consistent quality?
Paul Compston: Our focus on design-for-manufacture with automated and additive processes enables scalable production once the structural design and manufacturing process param­eters are optimised.

High-performance structures can be produced repeatably in the required volumes with a high degree of precision and accuracy. Furthermore, dual-laser ATP produces 3D manufacturing process param­eter datasets for every layer of tape that, when coupled with CT data, can rapidly produce digital twins for time-saving performance simulation and feedback for design iterations.

The digital footprint that we can create from our processes is a major step towards digital certification of high-performance structures, which can reduce the need for post-manufacture inspection and physical testing.

JEC Composites Magazine: What sectors are you targeting?
Paul Compston: In the near future, we expect to begin projects for the development of aerostructures for heavy-lift drones. Another target sec­tor is advanced air mobility (AAM), where short-duration low-altitude flights, with fre­quent take-off and landing cycles, will produce complex load cases and challenging fatigue profiles for aerostruc­tures that can be met with innovative composite design and digital manufacturing.

Our capability is ideal for any high-performance sector where highly-tailored design of composite structures is needed to meet demanding performance requirements: marine (high-performance racing yachts) and clean energy (hydrogen storage), for example.

JEC Composites Magazine: What is the Momentum Industry Hub? What role does it play regarding your company’s development?
Paul Compston: The Momentum Industry Hub is an incubator in the research school of physics at the Australian National University. It sup­ports university spin-offs and other startup compa­nies, such as New Frontier Technologies, that have an affiliation with the university and support the school’s research mission. This is an ideal platform during our startup phase as it provides access to equipment and infrastructure that support our technology development, and involvement in major industry-led research pro­grammes to sustain the innova­tion culture in the company.

JEC Composites Magazine: What will be the next steps for your future development?
Paul Compston: Currently, we are en­hancing the functionality of our composite structures by embedding electronic com­ponents with elegant design solutions that use 3D print­ing technology. This will be significant for applications where telemetry, communi­cations and structural health monitoring capability are important. We are also de­veloping coatings to enhance the degradation resistance of our composite structures in harsh environments.

We already have a well-developed partner network in Europe. Although our technology development work is done in Australia, we will be increasing our pres­ence and service offerings in Europe in the near future.

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More information www.newfrontiertech.com.au