Solvay hosted the unveiling of their automated Double Diaphragm Forming (DDF) demonstrator composite production line in Heanor Derbyshire. This is of major interest to the whole composites industry as shown by the fact that over 150 visitors came from the USA, Asia and Europe.
The DDF demonstrator line is the first time a line takes carbon fibre pre-preg directly from the roll and produces moulded components with a TAKT time of just three minutes, this means that every 3 minutes a new moulded component is produced by the line. The line is completely automated.
Solvay has partnered the development with Assyst Bullmer and Gudel. Assyst Bullmer has supplied the roll feed, ply cutter and robotic integration.
The fact is, making parts from composite materials is currently “an essentially manual process, which is fine for low volumes,” explains Richard Hollis, Applications Engineering Operations Lead at Solvay’s Composite Materials. “But we want to support the large-scale adoption of composite materials to help automotive and aerospace OEMs face higher build rates and cost pressure.”
In effect, Solvay is actively anticipating market demand for increased manufacturing volumes of composite parts. In fact, with DDF, the production time of just three minutes, from raw material to finished and ready-to-use part, amounts to over 100,000 parts per year, thanks to continuous production as the robots can work simultaneously.
These are the sorts of figures that can open the way for the industrialisation of composite part manufacturing. “DDF is a Solvay technology that was already used commercially by BMW a few years ago,” explained Richard Hollis. “And we’ve seen a lot of interest over the last 12 months from OEMs in the automotive sector initially, but aerospace is definitely interested in applying new technologies and best practices to increase their build rates as well.”