SBIR Phase II: Automation Enabled, Low-Cost, High-Volume Production of Advanced Composites

Period of Performance: 09/10/2015 - 12/31/2017

$750K

Phase 2 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Vistex Composites LLC
165 Caverns Rd.
Howes Cave, NY 12092
Firm POC, Principal Investigator

Abstract

The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project is in the automated manufacture of lightweight high-strength carbon fiber composite materials. Experts agree that composite manufacturers must lead innovations in sustainability, price reduction, and cycle-time reduction to meet end-market needs. The innovations proposed in this project, coupled with Vistex Composites' cutting edge Specialized Elastomeric Tooling process, directly address these needs by significantly advancing the state-of-the-art in composites manufacturing equipment. The prevailing motivation for short automated cycles is posed by the automotive industry, where lightweighting delivers major benefits for fuel consumption but where current processes cannot affordably and quickly produce carbon fiber automotive parts in large numbers. The equipment innovations proposed will not only enhance the automotive market but will have substantial commercial value across all composite markets as they allow the manufacture of equivalent quality products, faster, with less waste, significant energy savings, and at lower cost. Furthermore, the proposed automated process will enable Vistex in its aggressive path towards not only broader adoption of its Specialized Elastomeric Tooling process technology but also broader adoption of composite materials. This will directly drive manufacturing job creation, for Vistex and its customers, as composites displace foreign produced goods. This project addresses the design, fabrication, and analysis of an automated composite manufacturing cell using Vistex's patented Specialized Elastomeric Tooling process as the central technology. The standard composite manufacturing process, the autoclave, has long cycle times (hours), requires significant manual labor, and is expensive. Vistex's proposed manufacturing cell addresses these concerns. In the proposal manufacturing cell will be designed and fabricated to make a composite product using Specialized Elastomeric Tooling but where parts (1) can be moved rapidly and accurately using automation, (2) rapidly cured using Specialized Elastomeric Tooling, and (3) rapidly ejected/removed from the tooling, all while creating an equivalent or superior product to with significant cycle time savings over the industry's standard autoclave process. Through the use of material testing, cost analysis, and other metrics, each stage of the proposed manufacturing cell will be benchmarked against industry standard processes. The anticipated result will be a prototype turnkey rapid automated manufacturing cell and commercially usable products for project partners.