Saudi Basic Industries Corp. has completed a pilot project aimed at large-scale laminate production of composite tape made from its polycarbonate.
Sabic, based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, worked with Dutch composites maker Airborne International BV on the project. They are touting the technology as the world's first automated digital system for rapid, large-scale laminate production with continuous fiber-reinforced plastic composite tape.
The digital composites manufacturing (DCM) line is located at an Airborne site in the Netherlands. DCM uses technology from German firms Siemens AG of Munich and Kuka Robotics Corp. of Augsburg.
Sabic officials announced the completion of pilot work at the JEC World 2019 composites trade show, held March 12-14 in Paris.
The DCM line has been nominated for the 2019 JEC Innovation Awards in the industry & engineering category. Plans for the new system were announced at JEC World 2018. Full-scale production is slated for the end of 2019.
The DCM system can make four plastic composite laminates every 60 seconds, totaling up to 1.5 million parts annually. Potential uses include cases and covers for consumer electronics, aircraft inserts, automotive components and sporting goods.
"Composites offer amazing properties found in no other materials, such as extreme strength and ultra-low weight for diverse applications, ranging from wind turbine blades to sporting goods," Gino Francato, Sabic Advanced Composites global business leader, said in a news release.
But he added that prior to the DCM line, the adoption of composites "has been restricted because of time-consuming, inefficient and expensive processes."
By focusing on new materials and manufacturing automation to overcome these hurdles, Francato said, the industry "will make tremendous strides."
Airborne CEO Arno van Mourik added that by working together, Airborne and Sabic "can create real breakthroughs in cost efficiency for mass volume applications."
The DCM line uses robotics and other digital technologies for mass customization of flat laminates. The system can run multiple laminate sizes simultaneously. Process controls allow settings to be modified almost immediately, officials said.
Sabic will offer customers a range of services — including simulation-based parts and laminate design and guidance on hybrid molding processes — in order to streamline the switch to composites. Officials said that the company can customize its composite tapes and laminate products to meet customer requirements.