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Surface Generation is developing new press-forming mold faces incorporating its patented PtFS technology for the production of high-performance thermoplastic composite components. (Click arrow at top right of this image to see more.)

Surface Generation speeds composites throughput with one-shot stamp-forming process

Surface Generation is working with research group WMG, an academic department of the University of Warwick, and AGC AeroComposites to develop new composite press-forming processes for automotive and aerospace manufacturers.

Surface Generation, a U.K.-based provider of advanced carbon-fiber processing technologies, is developing new press-forming mold faces that incorporate its patented PtFS (Production to Functional Specifications) technology for the production of high-performance thermoplastic composite components. By integrating Surface Generation’s active thermal management technologies into the mold face itself, WMG and AGC are able to continuously adapt heating and cooling levels for each mold area and process stage in real time. The companies believe that this enhanced capability will improve both the quality and throughput of compression molding applications.

“PtFS provides automotive and aerospace manufacturers with a new level of sophistication in compression molding,” said Ben Halford, Chief Executive at Surface Generation. “The ability to dynamically control the heat applied to each mold area throughout the cure cycle means manufacturers can quickly and cost-effectively upgrade existing production lines for thermoplastic composites and significantly reduce their cost of production. As part of an integrated production line PtFS makes it possible for manufacturers to achieve one-minute Takt times for thermoplastic components.”

“PtFS is a rapid heat/cool process which uses multiple independently heated and cooled cells to locally control mold tool temperature through the applications of forced air heating and cooling to the back of mold faces using multiple circuits arranged in arrays,” Halford explained to SAE Magazines. “It is unique in that it is a complete blend of hardware and software which acts together to manage thermal control of the mold. By creating a physical representation of the digital control environment in the mold face, PtFS is able to manipulate everything in software.”

This approach allows the optimized delivery of energy in targeted areas, resulting in increased precision, reduced cycle time, and lower energy consumption. “The mold face can match melt temperatures even for PEEK and glass at 850°C, allowing users to process any material with one thermal control solution,” Halford noted.

“PtFS currently offers precise surface control to within 0.5°C of a desired target at temperatures of up to 850°C. This is three times more precise than Induction processes and twice as accurate as Rapid Heat Cycle Molding,” according to Halford. “During a recent compression molding PEEK trial, PtFS cut cycle times by 95%, the amount of energy used by 90%, and required press pressure by 75%. The reduction in pressure makes it possible to use smaller machinery and up to 85% less floor space in the factory.”

The work is in support of the Composites Innovation Cluster’s Thermocomp project, which aims to develop short cycle time, high-volume manufacturing processes that can be used to produce carbon-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic components in the automotive and aerospace industries.

Surface Generation has been developing PtFS since 2008 and continues to iterate the process to work with different materials, Halford shared. “Recent developments make it possible to achieve significant production and efficiency improvements using PtFS with die casting, hot sheet metal forming, and even glass processing at 850°C. We have a third wave of research projects under way with applications running 1000°C to allow us to superplastic form titanium.”

“A major barrier to mainstream adoption of novel, aligned fiber-reinforced thermoplastics within the automotive sector is the difficulty of economically achieving short cycle times within a high-volume production environment,” Geraint Williams, Project Manager at WMG, said in a statement. “Surface Generation's PtFS technology has the potential to meet this challenge by eliminating process stages and enabling manufacturers to rapidly form composite components using a one-shot stamp-forming process.”

Commenting on the aerospace industry, Dave Conway, Materials Technology Director at AGC AeroComposites, said: “Aerospace manufacturers recognize that every gram counts when it comes to building lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft, but traditional press forming processes are not economically viable for producing even medium-volume complex shaped parts. By incorporating its...PtFS process into conventional press forming processes, Surface Generation has opened the door to era in aerospace manufacturing.”

PtFS is already used for production in aerospace and consumer electronics. “Our PtFS Multiplexing system, which uses a unique transfer process with a pressure containment cassette that allows mold faces and laminates to be held at pre-defined loads inside and outside of the press, is expected to be deployed in mid-2016 for consumer electronics and mid-2017 for automotive,” Halford said.

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