Sigmatex is currently involved in a number of funded government projects such as the following:
More and more industrial sectors (e.g. automotive, wind energy, boatbuilding) are demanding lightweight and high-performance composite materials, due to increased demand for reducing CO2 emissions and new applications in extreme environments, which represent a strong driving force to further develop the carbon fibre industry.
Today, almost 80% of the carbon fibre available on the market is using PolyAcryloNitrile (PAN) as the starting raw material because of its superior properties. However, carbon fibres produced from PAN are expensive which limit their application to premium industrial sectors looking for high-performance structural materials while accepting high material costs (e.g. aeronautics, space and defence). Moreover, it is acknowledged that precursor accounts for approximately 50% of the total manufacturing costs to produce carbon fibres and equipment accounts for approximately one third of the production cost.
Within this context, there is a crucial need to develop cost-effective precursors in order to produce carbon fibres at a more competitive price, which is the main barrier to address mass markets such as automotive industry, as well as emerging markets such as wind energy.
Two types of carbon fibre precursors will be investigated within CARBOPREC project: a high purity cellulose grade and a high purity organosolv lignin grade, both doped by carbon nanotube (CNT).
Both cellulose and lignin-based precursors are actually widely available renewable sources. Moreover, they have already been investigated as carbon fibre precursors by world-class advanced research laboratories (e.g. Oak Ridge National Laboratory in US…) without meeting the expected mechanical performances.
The manufacturing process of white fibre (i.e. fibre before carbonisation step) strongly depends on the macromolecular structure of renewable source precursor:
- for high purity cellulose-based precursor: a preliminary phosphoric acid dissolution step is followed by a wet spinning process step,
- for high purity lignin-based precursor: a preliminary compounding step is followed by a melt spinning process step.
The CARBOPREC project has a twofold purpose:
- to carry out a comparative study onto both lignin and cellulose routes in order to develop a cost-effective manufacturing process at industrial scale for mass market applications,
- to make suitable the carbonisation process to both cellulose- and lignin-based precursor fibers in order to enhance the carbonisation yield and to remove the oxidation step.
Furthermore, a plasma treatment will be developed in order to replace or to optimise the following steps of the manufacturing process: standard oxidation, carbonisation and surface treatment.
The carbon fibres will be finally processed into fabrics and composite materials in order to provide a demonstrator for automotive and for wind blade energy.
The demand for lightweight vehicles, structures and devices is recognised as a strategic theme for UK manufacturing. Composites are also recognised as a key component and a significant contributor in securing UK manufacturing technologies against scarcity of energy and other resources. Demand for high-volume, low-cost and recyclable components will be specifically required for automotive use.
The UK composites supply chain currently lacks maturity in capability of people, materials and process technology to meet the demand of this market opportunity and so faces market failure unless the UK national competency can rise to meet these challenges within the next 3 to 5 years. For the composites industry to compete in this arena we need to develop new high volume manufacturing capability within the UK.
The CiC addresses these market failures by bringing academics, suppliers, and primes together with the strategy of the National Composites Centre to support the delivery of a nationally connected network of materials specialists, manufacturing & process businesses, tooling and systems providers. By working together on people, technology, materials and knowledge the CiC’s strategic intent is capability of skilled people that will enable the UK composites community to meet global market demand beyond AMSCI funding.
Widespread adoption of liquid resin infusion processes for structural composite components is a necessary step forward to achieve the required cost reduction for the UK to remain competitive in the global composites industry. This project intends to increase the range of composite components which are suitable for liquid resin infusion, therefore replacing processes such as hand layup of prepregs which require high manufacturing labour.
The particular technology focus for the project will be on high temperature liquid resin systems which offer greater thermal performance than epoxies. Technology improvement will run parallel with skills development, since the adoption of advanced liquid moulding processes in the UK composites sector has been limited by the shortfall of expertise in the key technology areas of self-heated tooling, net-shape preform manufacture & liquid infusion processing, with a particular focus on optimising & validating the resin flow path to achieve the required component quality.
Bespoke training & development will improve skills across the supply chain from materials supply through to component design & manufacture.
OEMs have invested significantly in shortening their product development processes over the last two decades and virtual prototyping through Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) has been a key enabler to achieve this. The confidence in using CAE to develop predominantly metallic structures to achieve target performance is high and has meant that significant time reductions and cost savings have been achieved by removing the heavy reliance on physical prototype testing.
As products are increasingly developed using composite materials significant investment is required in order to provide reliable predictive CAE results to meet the equivalent timing and costs as those required to develop a metallic structure. The vision of this proposal is to establish a material database to facilitate the use of established virtual prototyping methodologies for composite product development. The database will also facilitate validation and quality assurance of composite materials used within the UK supply chain.
The Thermocomp project is designed to remove the barriers involved in the widespread adoption of high performance CFRP, which involves reducing cycle times and increasing volume production. One means of doing this is optimising materials for ‘stamp forming’ techniques, which are analogous to existing processes such as stamping of sheet metals in the automotive industry. Key markets at which the materials are being developed include aerospace and automotive segments.
This report focuses on the initial baseline materials manufactured by the partners: Technical Fibre Products, Sigmatex and Tilsatec. Initially relevant polymer systems are being investigated and shared between the partners to improve/aid comprehension of the various product forms. Material selection will ultimately be driven by the particular demonstrator part(s) chosen. The partners are trying to further differentiate these products by including the following attributes: Fracture toughness, Surface finish, Speed of manufacture, Drapability, Added functionality (electrical conductivity/ Thermal conductivity/Electromagnetic shielding/ Anti-static/ Fire protection/ Health monitoring).
Development of Dry Fabric stabilisation processes and Automation to ensure UK Supply Chain is ready for anticipated opportunities in non-pre-preg composites systems. Developing market opportunity through investments in machinery and skills.
Objective of this project:
The UK Composites Supply Chain has been focussed on Pre impregnated (PrePreg) Carbon fabrics and is a global supplier for Aerospace and the high end Automotive sector. Expertise in the areas of fabric manufacture and resin formulation whilst key to current and future applications, is seen as a barrier to some mass market opportunities.
The development of dry fabrics in various forms including 3 Dimensional Woven fabrics and Multiaxial Non-Crimp Fabrics for resin infusion is an opportunity for future supply chain activity. Currently the European Automotive sector is looking to the supply chain for stabilised dry fabrics. The sector has identified this to be an opportunity for faster production rates as required for Automotive Mass market materials supply.
The stabilisation will use powder deposition and lamination techniques to enable automatic cutting and deposition by the end user. In order to ensure that the UK Supply Chain is ready for the opportunities available for these emerging markets, it is essential to invest in both the enabling Technology and Skills.
Sigmatex has recently invested heavily in a Training loom to help develop skills within the sector. Further skills are required for these future opportunities, especially in the application of binder and stabilization to dry fabric formats.
It is expected that by investing in current Technology and New Technology for emerging markets the UK Composites Supply Chain will be further strengthened in capability. This will only be realised with the investment in skills that are required at all levels in Manufacture and Design. With the demands of the Automotive Sector, enhanced quality controls are essential.
The use of advanced Technologies is essential in the move towards perfect fabrics and automated Certificates of Conformity essential for the UK Composites supply chain.