Cutting Edge Multi-Million Pound Fibre-Laying Machine for the NCC

The National Composites Centre (NCC) has announced today (Monday 31 January 2011) its purchase of a multi-million pound Automatic Fibre Placement (AFP) machine, the first of its kind in the country.

The machine cost over £2½m and was paid for with a grant from the South West RDA (Regional Development Agency) through GKN Aerospace as part of the Next Generation Composite Wing research programme, and a grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The AFP machine will be of vital importance to the work of the NCC in progressing the UK’s composite capabilities - exploring the manufacturing challenges facing many industrial sectors to help ensure the UK industrial base is prepared to face anticipated market requirements in the coming decades.

Conventionally, composites are hand laid up from plies which is very time consuming and can introduce problems with variability in the finished product. The AFP machine will be used to progress expertise in rapid, automated, material deposition - an area with huge potential benefit for future composites manufacture.

The AFP machine, supplied by Coriolis Composites (France), comprises two robotic arms, each with an AFP head. These arms work independently and cooperatively, rapidly depositing composite fibres in specific directions and to varying thicknesses to create highly accurate and repeatable composite structures.

 

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These structures will be able to meet detailed strength and flexibility specifications – offering significant potential for future composite structure applications. They will be lower in weight, manufactured in a much shorter timescale, and offer less material wastage than conventionally produced structures.

Peter Chivers, executive director of the NCC, said: “This is a fantastic acquisition for the Centre. It will put us at the forefront of this exciting area, and will enable us to add significant value to the innovative work on composites that is taking place throughout the country."

 

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Graham Harrison, director of international business at the South West RDA, said: “This important national centre, based in the South West, will benefit the regional economy, and indeed the whole of the country. When you consider that the composites market is due to increase by 8% per year until 2015, this has the potential to create and safeguard hundreds of jobs, and add hundreds of millions to the economy. The AFP will help to project the Centre to the forefront of this exciting and innovative industry."

Rich Oldfield, Technical Director, GKN Aerospace comments: “This new AFP machine will allow us to extend our Next Generation Composite Wing (NGCW) development activity into studying rapid material deposition techniques and this expertise will be critical if we are to achieve the fast, accurate manufacturing necessary to meet anticipated aerospace market demands.”

Clementine Gallet, President of Coriolis Composites: "We are very proud to have been selected for this ambitious project of the NCC. Our team is really motivated to work alongside English industrialists on this innovative device".

 

Notes to editors
1. Composites are made from at least two materials that together deliver engineering properties that are superior to those of the materials on their own. In practice, most composites consist of a weaker bulk material and a reinforcement of some kind, added primarily to increase the strength and stiffness of the material.
2. The NCC’s mission is ‘To be an independent, open-access national centre that delivers world-class innovation in the design and rapid manufacture of composites and facilitates their widespread industrial exploitation.’
3. In November 2009 the Government launched the UK Composites Strategy. This highlighted the importance of composites to the future of UK manufacturing and the Government’s plans for ensuring that the UK has the means to succeed in intensely competitive global markets.
4. A key part of this strategy was the establishment of the National Composites Centre (NCC), which will bring together dynamic companies and enterprising academics to develop new technologies for the design and rapid manufacture of high-quality composite products. The combination of academic and business strengths will speed progress from laboratory to design to factory and into products.
5. The NCC is a £25m investment supported by: the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (£12m); the South West RDA (Regional Development Agency) (£4m); and £9m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)
6. ERDF Competitiveness in the South West has one objective - to increase the prosperity of the region through supporting enterprises and individuals to develop ideas and plans which contribute to increase productivity and competitiveness. This objective is supported by four operational objectives:
  • Increasing the productivity of the region’s business base, through the promotion and support of innovation, research and development and the application of knowledge;
  • Reduce intra-regional disparities through stimulating enterprise and accelerating business growth in those parts of the region lagging behind;
  • To increase employment and enterprise in the region's most disadvantaged communities; and
  • Protect and enhance the region's environmental assets and work towards developing a low carbon economy.
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