Advanced polymer composites such as reinforced plastics combine the light weight and low cost of a polymer matrix with the superior properties of the reinforcing fibres embedded in it. When these fibres are woven to create fabrics, even more benefits can be expected. However, widespread commercial application has so far been hindered, largely because of processing difficulties and their inherently high costs. The 3D-LIGHTTRANS (Large scale manufacturing technology for high-performance lightweight 3D multifunctional composites) project overcame these limitations. Researchers developed and tested a new concept once for multi-layered fabrics and also for cross woven spacer fabric. The production machines were adopted for the multi-layered fabric or new developed respectively for the spacer fabric so that interlocked woven spacer fabrics and cellular textile structures can be manufactured in a single step. This is combined with the capability for automated deep draping and fixation of thick multilayer fabrics in complex 3D geometries. Beyond aeronautics, 3D-LIGHTTRANS targeted transportation, health, energy, leisure and other important sectors. The hybrid yarn combines glass reinforcement with thermoplastic matrix filaments in a single yarn. Researchers used the air mingling technique in its manufacturing due to its good impregnation behaviour. The process was optimised to maximise the repeatability and performance with different glass/polymer mixture ratios in a variety of matrix materials. Distribution of thermoplastic filaments and glass fibre is highly homogeneous, while abrasion of the yarn is kept at a minimum during weaving. Woven fabric reinforcement leads to higher performance, controllability of properties and flexibility for customization. The draping of the locally pre-fixed textile into the desired final 3D form is performed automatically. In particular, a special draping device is attached to a robot, which is programmed to follow a given path, while the fabric is kept in place by clamping devices. A force control system makes path programming easier and ensures a constant draping force of the fabric against the tool. Using lightweight materials should result in significant savings in fuel consumption, translating to both financial benefits for the consumer and reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Fully automated production will reduce production time and costs, resulting in more competitive EU manufacturers.
3D textiles, hybrid yarn, textile weaving, multi-layered fabric, spacer fabric, thermoplastic composites, 3D-LIGHTTRANS, manufacturing