Materials Enhancement

Fundamental improvements to the performance of composite materials cascade through to more capable and higher value products. The greatest opportunities for innovation are currently in the area of nano-enhancement of existing materials to provide multi-functional capabilities. Carbon nano tubes (CNTs) and graphene have extraordinary potential to fundamentally change the electrical, thermal and mechanical properties of composite matrices IF they can be integrated into the production chain. ANU has recently invested in a pilot scale facility to produce up to 2 tons of graphene annually. AMAC has identified a key opportunity to integrate graphene treated polymers into the automated manufacturing chain by embedding them in tapes used by the AFP facilities.

  • Project A1 – Graphene enhanced prepreg tapes for thermal and electrical conductivity
  • Project A2 - Durable nano-scale surface treatments to improve wear and environmental resistance

Process-Property Optimisation

Automated manufacture disrupts composites processing norms. Part quality is less of a function of cure cycles and infusion rates and more related to the mechanics of adding material to a mould: consolidation pressure, consolidation temperature, tape lay down rate, tape distortion, etc. This is still an immature area of research with huge potential for investigation and optimisation. Gains in this area will come from creating and optimising robust models for part performance and quality indicators by specifically addressing the complex thermal and mechanical environment at the point of material application onto the mould. Optimising the process parameters for multi-material interfaces, such as thermoplastic/thermoset or composite/alloy, unlocks new opportunities for industry.

  • Project B1 – Automated integration of process monitoring sensors
  • Project B2 – Thermoplastic AFP optimisation for metallic bonding
  • Project B3 - Post-forming of thermoplastic AFP composite tubes
  • Project B4 – Automation of the Thermoset Composite Welding (TCW) technology

Simulation and Performance Prediction

AFP laminates can be manufactured in a greater variety of shapes than normal laminates, also with exotic mechanical properties, at the expense of including far more localised defects. The manufacturing process is, however, still constrained by the mechanics of the robot, tool and fibre tapes. It is critical that simulation tools are developed to: identify risks in the manufacturing process; identify likely defect locations; predict the as-manufactured properties; and predict the stiffness and strength of manufactured components.

  • Project C1 – Advanced microCT for in-situ defect and damage characterisation
  • Project C2 – Hybrid deterministic/stochastic failure models for AFP composites
  • Project C3 – Selective stiffness modification and performance prediction for composite components

Design, Integration and Optimisation

One of the major obstacles to automated manufacturing of composites, and composite manufacturing in general, is the complexity of design, qualification, manufacture and testing. Automated manufacturing adds additional complexity to this system which imposes unacceptable risks for many businesses. This research theme aims to develop high-level tools (software, guidelines, etc.) that aid the integration of AFP into industry.

  • Project D1 – Robust composite design of thin-walled AFP composites
  • Project D2 – Stiffening regimes for maximum damage/impact resistance
  • Project D3 - Rapid minimum-damage automated machining of composites