Composites evolution, big and small
We like to focus on the Next Big Thing in composites, but everyday processes need attention too.
The dynamic nature of the composites industry has conditioned us to expect relatively large leaps in technological advancement. New material forms like bi-angle reinforcement and processing advancements in everything from RTM to automated tape laying are par for the course as we look for ways to make composite structures more durable and manufacturable.
Because of this, it’s easy to overlook incremental improvements in established technologies, processes and materials. This was the message from Mike Thaman, chairman of the board and CEO of Owens Corning (Toledo, Ohio), this week at COMPOSITES 2013 in Orland, Fla., during a sit-down interview with CompositesWorld (CW).
Thaman noted that Owens Corning has spent much of the last few years building out and firming up its manufacturing operations around the world. Now, he says, the company is focusing its efforts on markets and products. But not just products that help expand composites’ capabilities, but products that make existing technologies and materials easier to use and apply. “We are always looking to move the industry forward,” he told CW. “But we also see opportunity in making existing technologies perform more effectively.”
This is not idle CEO chit-chat. The fact is that many composites manufacturing processes and systems remain dependent on human interaction and inputs that have changed little over the last decade. Despite calls for material and equipment standardization and automation — to increase consistency, quality and uptime — many composites processes remain ripe for optimization. Thaman noted his company’s improvement in OptiSpray rovings that enable easier and faster open mold sprayup, with faster wet-out with less resin usage.
Automated ply placement, increased automation of infusion systems, automated drilling and better integration of design and manufacturing data are just a few of several processes begging for reduced human intervention and systematic improvement.