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Systematic Down Selection Approach to Automated Composites Lay-down Processes

Angelo Sportelli, Marco Barile, Gianni Iagulli, Marco Raffone, Leonardo Lecce


The ever-growing use of composite materials for industrial applications and in different fields drives machine manufacturers to a continuous investigation and fast development of new technological solutions to face market’s challenges. Automated laydown processes, also supported by a wider choice of standard material sizes, were particularly diversified and even improved in last years. AFPM (Automated Fiber Placement Machine), originally conceived as a unique and costly application for manufacturing of large and complex CFRP thermoset based parts, has been extremely revalued by introducing new smaller and flexible equipments, often based on common hardware solutions. Therefore, recent developments have made AFPM a highly-competitive option, also for components traditionally produced by manual lay-up or by automated tape layer machines (ATLM or CTLM). This is one of the reasons why industries are always more interested to provide themselves with reliable tools for predicting and comparing different machines’ performances. Within this context, Leonardo Aircraft S.p.A., supported by Novotech s.r.l., carried out an extensive research activity aimed at producing by automated technology several composite demonstrators having a growing complexity level. The manufacturing test plan has involved the application of different materials and technologies, in particular the research has allowed to directly assess the capabilities of a 6-axes robot based AFPM with regard to productivity and buy to fly (BTF) as well as laydown quality for aerospace applications, comparing also them with those achieved with a 5-axes vertical gantry based CTLM. Whereas on the one hand trials with AFPM have guided to define realistic technological readiness levels for automated lamination of thermoset prepreg material and dry fiber material empennages as well as fuselage portions without and with embedding sandwich panels, on the other hand comparative tests with CTLM have finally suggested a possible systematic down selection approach to evaluate and determine the best automated process to use as a function of appropriate geometrical features of the parts.

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