Lightweight production 4.0: designing for fast ramp up of urban air vehicles
How Fibre Patch Placement (FPP) will bridge the gap between productivity, flexibility and production costs for the vehicles of the future
New urban air mobility concepts will change the way we move in and above metropolitan areas. The democratic approach, catering to the masses through platform and sharing models, will result in exponentially increasing demand for vehicles once regulations fall into place. Despite unclear timelines, vehicles are designed today to enter long certification processes as soon as possible. The key challenge for manufacturers is to ensure that components can be produced cost-efficiently at low volumes but have the potential to scale 10-50 times as markets unfold.
On a functional level, manufacturers must balance structural weight, payload and range for intended missions. This usually mandates the use of lightweight fibre composites. Manufacturing of composites is either manual, slow and costly, or requires equipment with high upfront investments and little flexibility once installed. 3D printing, on the other hand, offers great flexibility, but doesn’t meet requirements for mechanical properties and scaling volumes yet.
‘Bridging the gap between productivity, flexibility and production costs’
Fibre Patch Placement (FPP) bridges the gap between productivity, flexibility and production costs and offers efficiency even at low volumes. Adapted to the size and complexity of a component, the technology works additively in "sensible increments", enabling challenging 3D geometries with complex fibre orientation. The robots of the SAMBA production platforms place discrete fibre elements (patches) on calculated positions, thereby realising complex layups fully automated. The technology-specific software ARTIST STUDIO, compatible to existing composite design suites, supports engineers with CAD, CAM and FEA functions and reduces development time for complex parts significantly.
The production platforms can process multiple materials such as carbon fibre, glass fibre, adhesive films, or copper mesh prepreg on a single platform. This allows manufacturers to automate the layup of sandwich structures, further contributing to extreme lightweight constructions with a remarkably improved performance-to-weight ratio. In addition, glass and carbon fibres can be easily mixed to balance structural properties with material cost. Featuring additive manufacturing following bionic principles, FPP consumes 25-50 per cent less material than other technologies by eliminating production scrap and optimising fibre architecture. Therefore, also the buy-to-fly ratio is remarkably improved.
Output rates scaled without new training
Given the short set-up times of SAMBA systems, manufacturers can economically produce very different parts on a single system. This flexibility is a key enabler for scaling up production volumes fast. Usually, composite production processes change significantly when increasing volumes tenfold or more, e.g. from 100 to 1,000 plus per year. With different production processes, the fibre laminate and therefore structural properties change. The result: costly re-qualifications of the parts and a slow ramp-up process, as new processes also require training and reset the learning curve of production staff. With FPP, however, only the number of production cells increases. More productions cells become dedicated to certain parts, and output rates scale fast and efficiently without new training. Since the laminate doesn’t change, manufacturers don’t need to re-qualify components.
FPP technology has demonstrated 20-60 per cent cost and time savings in the production of (multi-material) composites compared to manual lay-up in conventional aerospace. This improves the cost position of manufacturers especially when they most need it: during the scale up. In a nutshell: with elevated flexibility and scalability for high-performance lightweight structures, FPP enables production automation that ramps-up as fast and economically as urban air vehicles conquer the skies.
* At the Farnborough Global Urban Air Summit (GUAS) in September 3-4, Cevotec’s Managing Director Thorsten Groene will speak about the challenges composites pose to manufacturers of urban air vehicles and points out the unique solutions Fibre Patch Placement offers for production automation and scaling.