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Airborne introduces Automated Preforming by pick and weld

The Hague, June 4th 2021 – As frontrunner in automated solutions for composites manufacturing, Airborne has developed a fully automated and flexible manufacturing process for creating composite preforms in dry fibre and thermoplastic composite: the Automated Preforming system. For many moulding processes, a tailored blank is needed and to create this preform efficiently has been a bottleneck in the industry for a long time. With the unique Airborne Preforming technology customers will have the full freedom to create any shape of preform and benefit from the high output the system offers. 

The solution is based on three steps: cutting of the material on a conveyor cutter or tape feeder,  picking of the material by the robot and then placing and spot-welding the plies to create a stabilized preform, ready to be moulded. It can work with the existing, wide material rolls to optimize the cost and does not need new design or qualification effort, since it uses existing processes for cutting and welding. Depending on the need, different variants can be supplied, optimized for productivity, accuracy or flexibility. One of the great advantages of Airborne Preforming technology is that it can create any preform: in size, in shape (making free-form edges and 100% net-shape), and in thickness variation, and it can also make cut-outs in the middle of the ply.

Increasing need for all-round automated preforming solution
Typically, the process of creating a preform is quite costly. Many composite forming processes, such as press consolidation, press forming, vacuum forming, or diaphragm forming, are based on the use of tailored 2D preforms or blanks. Although the forming processes are usually efficiently automated, the blanks or preforms going into these processes are often produced manually – a repetitive process, requiring both skill and concentration from the operators. With higher production rates it becomes increasingly difficult for operators to keep up with production while maintaining quality. And if automation of the process is considered, in many cases the engineering and programming time is prohibitive, especially in factories with a wide mix of products.

Scalable and easy to use

Airborne is now conquering these challenges with the launch of its very flexible Automated Preforming system. Automated programming allows for short start-up times with no engineering effort: no programming is needed. The design file can be loaded directly into the machine and the preform can be made without intervention. The Airborne Preforming system can handle both dry fibre and thermoplastic composite materials in many different forms (UD, fabric, core materials, surface films, adhesive films, etc.). Functionalities can be added easily (quality control, preform offloading, additional material feeds, higher volume material feeds, etc.).

Marcus Kremers, CTO Airborne: “The basic principle of the system is very simple: ‘Pick & Weld’. This is a pick and place action by the robot during which we spot-weld the plies. We very much like this conceptual simplicity since it makes the process very robust, flexible and versatile. Of course, the devil is in the detail to make it work consistently with the right quality. In many cases, customers handle lots of different materials and product designs. Their ideal situation is to have a single automation technology and that’s what we can provide them.”

Video showing Automated Preforming system in action
To showcase the latest development, Airborne demonstrates the preforming process in this video:

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