Today’s automated composite layup machinery and software has many similarities with the state of the CNC metal-cutting industry of the 1950’s and 60’s. The technology is difficult to adopt for all but the largest manufacturers because of the high infrastructure costs. The process technology is complex and only understood by few. And, software is generally provided by machine manufactures, with different software required for each machine brand, resulting in limited software implementation and advances.
In the same way cutting speed in “centimeters per minute” is boasted by manufactures of high-speed CNC milling machines, manufactures of Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) and Automated Tape-Laying (ATL) machines promote composite material application rates of “kilograms per hour,” while often ignoring other significant process complexities that must be addressed in order to lay-up parts quickly. The parallels don’t end there however; just as Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software must continually evolve with new machining techniques, the software for programming AFP machines must also evolve to handle advances in technology. Software that narrowly supports one brand, vintage, or model of AFP machine, quickly becomes inapplicable and obsolete.
Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) equipment has become significantly faster and more reliable and, now that AFP technology has been proven for a variety of parts, more companies are considering AFP equipment to replace their existing processes. But before they do, it is important to learn AFP’s capabilities and limitations. The 1-hour presentation in the video above discusses the challenges and rewards of using AFP. It describes the interaction between part programming and machine functionality, and how it is affected by part geometry, ply boundary shapes, lay-down path trajectory, material limits, and the physical behavior and mechanics of the fiber placement head and machine.