Composite materials have become increasingly appealing to the automotive and aerospace industries because of high strength-to-weight ratios, which improve product performance and reduce fuel consumption.

Generating 3D structures from composite materials involves pre-forming carbon fibre textiles into complex shapes, prior to introducing the resin matrix. Traditionally, these structures are manufactured by hand, which involves long cycle times, generates lots of material wastage and is labour-intensive. Simulation tools can reduce the time to market, but modelling at this scale requires a high degree of computer processing power.

This challenge was addressed by the Composites research group in the Faculty of Engineering. Using finite element computer analysis, the team developed a composite pre-forming simulation tool to model the manufacturing process of complex, full scale components in less than a minute. The simulations were adopted to optimise processing parameters, to ensure critical fibre wrinkles could be minimised.

The research was extended within the Innovate UK project – Affordable Lightweighting through Preform Automation (ALPA) – leading to the design and demonstration of a lab-scale Double Diaphragm Forming machine to automate the manufacture of complex shapes and reduce textile waste to just 5%.

The faculty’s research was adopted by Hexcel Reinforcements Ltd, resulting in a fully-automated pilot-scale manufacturing process for complex composite shapes. It also supported further industrial investment, helping to secure the future of Hexcel’s Research and Technology department in the East Midlands



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