CORDIS - EU research results

Feasibility Study of the induction WELding, FIbre placement and shaping of Thermoplastic composites

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WEL-FIT (Feasibility Study of the induction WELding, FIbre placement and shaping of Thermoplastic composites)

Reporting period: 2015-06-01 to 2015-11-30

BERCELLA is an Italian SME, operating since the 90s in the sector of composites, in particular for their high-added-value application in the automotive, aerospace, aeronautics and renewable energy sectors. Its story is characterized since the early beginning by a continuous development and open innovation strategy, scouting of new technologies and partnering with manufacturers and equipment developers, products designers and end users. The objective of the WEL-FIT project is to support BERCELLA strategy of capabilities strengthening and gaining the industrial leadership, towards the application of structural composites as parts of mass-customized products.
The vision shared by the company management is strongly supported by the perception of the need for change of paradigm in the composite industry. Carbon Fibre can be the response for high performances, lightweight and durability needs expressed by an ever growing number of sectors: products reliability, performances reproducibility and availability in a wide variety of shapes, in large numbers are the key demands. The replacement of steel plates in the automotive, as a matter of example, either for structural and for the shell parts, is so far not industrially implementable for the mass production, because of the high costs concerned when dealing with handcrafted parts, and the need for 100% testing, resulting from the unpredictable performances achieved within a highly manual intensive process. Further demands of improvement are correlated to the amount of material which is wasted within the standard composites process: unacceptable for economical and environmental reasons.
BERCELLA approach to the evolution needs of the composite industry is oriented to a platform for shaping of composite parts, based on high strength Carbon fibre reinforced thermoplastics, capable to be operated with continuity and strong automation capacity.
On the basis of the background capabilities and equipments available in CETMA, the induction heating, has been selected as this platform, provided its suitability as enabler to the shaping of parts and their integration through welding and direct forming in place. In particular, the testing campaign deployed within the course of the Step 1 project implementation permitted to assess the feasibility of the whole concept, adequately backed with closed loop controls and high volume technologies that can be implemented in synergy with the induction towards a combination of high precision, flexibility of the shapes and high throughput. Suppliers of the raw materials were qualified, demonstrating in practical terms their will to provide samples and to develop dedicated lines of products matching the specific (and innovative) needs of the induction process.
The idea underlying BERCELLA will to develop the WEL-FIT project was to explore breakthrough technologies that can be capable to pushing composites towards mass application, cutting the production costs, at no quality and performances compromise. The result has been surprising in the potential that can be developed and convinced the management to continue the investments towards a higher level of TRL and an industrial deployment of a full scale functioning demonstrator.
The result of this Feasibility Study has been to evaluate in concrete and measurable terms, the feasibility of the process of Induction for the shaping of complex composite parts, assessing the following Key Performances Indicators (KPIs):
• The technical performances of the finished part: on the basis of a trial on a demo part, the shape reproducibility and as well the mechanical performances of the part proved to ensure complete replication of the original part in traditional composite manufacturing. Specific grades of tapes, reinforcements and matrixes tested show the effectiveness of the idea and confirmed the types of materials to be implemented
• The production time: complete cycle time resulted slow compared with expectations, still the unique capability to weld stringers and reinforcements, or to connect through induction welding two parts creating a single, highly complex piece, still represent a strong opportunity, exploited in conjunction with other fast shaping of composites. This results in the desired improvement for the composite manufacturing precision, and the automation, removing the need for autoclave and manual operations
• The overall environmental performances: through Life Cycle calculations a congruous reduction of the CO2 and energetic footprint has been calculated, ensuring the production to be more cost effective and at the same time more beneficial for the environment
• Ranges of suppliers granting the availability to provide customized materials for the integration into products, and the long term commercial success of the idea
As a result of the project, BERCELLA is ready to further invest to grant the idea to be put in practice, and this to be done also through the funding searched via a Step 2 project, in which a small value chain is gathered with the objective of filling the technological and industrial gap between the idea, its first practical implementation, and the industrial processing. The reliable, automated and robust process to industrialize the composites manufacturing is the way expected to permit industrial sectors like the automotive to implement composites in a widespread, reliable and sustainable way.
According to authoritative market studies, Over the next five years, the composite industry is forecast to be worth US$27 billion with end product applications worth US$78 billion. Current production volumes for composites are low compared to conventional materials: as a matter of example, around 1.3 billion tonnes of steel is produced worldwide annually compared to five million tonnes of glass fibre reinforced plastic (GFRP) and 46,000 tonnes of carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP). However, the demand for CFRP is forecasted to rise to 157,000 tonnes by 2020 (Composites World, 2013). According to EUCIA, the value for 2014 CFRP worldwide demand was 53 k tons (+14% over 2013), with a global value of 1,98 Billion US$ (+11,9% over 2013).
According to EU cars manufacturers, the weight of an average segment car has increased by more than 30% in the last 40 years, in order to meet the expectations in terms of safety, increased comfort onboard (seating comfort and noise absorption), and space for occupants and luggage. Such trend needs to be reverted, without any possibility of compromising on these aspects that represent the driving force for car manufacturers, yet the rules for emissions reduction (already applying a taxation for every g of CO2 emitted per km, emitted by every car sold, exceeding the limit of 95 g/km) compel the achievement of every potential action towards the emission reduction goal.
The WEL-FIT project results clearly indicate the potential to reach the ambitious emissions reduction results do pass for the mass adoption of composite materials for automotive parts. This in turn can be achieved through the implementation of the hybrid composite manufacturing developed within the project, which feasibility has been proven and which results could be addressing the market and performances requirements, leading to the aimed lightweighting and consequent reduction of emissions.
Close-up image of the Induction Welding process