Transitioning from manual to automated manufacturing is essential to reducing labor, tooling, and material costs and ultimately maximizing profits. Labor costs are obviously higher in well-developed economies. Hence, less established countries with lower expenses offer an alternative for cost cutting. However, access to proper skill sets is especially important in the area of composites, which use complex technology and require specialized training and knowledge. So product quality may suffer due to high turnover, lack of sufficiently sophisticated skills, and insufficient training for a low-cost workforce.
A master model is critical
A prerequisite to an efficient automated manufacturing process is a product-development system that creates a complete and detailed digital master definition of a composite product within a commercial 3D CAD system, such as Catia, Pro/Engineer, or NX. It is vital that the digital composite model of a blade contain all the information required to properly manufacture the part—including definition of all laminates and plies, associated flat patterns, manufacturing sequences and steps, accurate definitions of the cored panels and interface definitions for all mating parts. This enables seamless collaboration between engineering and manufacturing.
Such a master model must also enable so-called producibility simulations, or simulations of the manufacturing process, be it curing of prepreg layups, dry layups for resin infusion, or some other manufacturing method. Producibility simulations let design and manufacturing engineers predict manufacturing issues, such as composite fabric wrinkling or bridging that may appear during layup operations due to deformations imparted to materials when laid up in blade molds. By accurately predicting such issues, simulation software allows an early resolution of manufacturing issues without making many costly prototypes that lengthen development operations.
Data from a master model drives all downstream manufacturing operations. After creating the engineering master model and releasing it to manufacturing, all data sets necessary for production can be readily exported to the shop floor for manufacturing the parts. For example, all ply shapes will be exported to a nesting or cutting system for automated cutting. This can save a significant amount of time compared to manual cutting, and provide better repeatability and quality of the ply shape.
In the not-so-distant future, automated systems based on the robotic deposition of entire rolls of materials will be used to manufacture composite blades. Such systems will be fed data obtained from the master model to generate layup trajectories, spray the gelcoat, add adhesive beads, and finish the blades.
These systems will also need flexibility to handle hard-to-manufacture part areas, which will only work if the digital master model has been completed and prepared. Where a human can interpret and correct on the fly on the shop floor, a machine has to be fed accurate and appropriate information. WPE
Filed Under: Software