Materials Science

SABIC spotlights major milestone in trailblazing initiative to digitize composites manufacturing

13th March 2019
SABIC is celebrating a major milestone for its ground-breaking Digital Composites Manufacturing line here at JEC World 2019 (Hall 6, stand P12). The company, in collaboration with Airborne and powered by Siemens and Kuka technologies, has successfully completed the pilot phase of the world’s first automated digital system for rapid, large-scale laminate manufacturing using SABIC’s continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composite tape. The Digital Composites Manufacturing line has been nominated for the 2019 JEC Innovation Awards in the category “Industry & Engineering”. The winner will be announced at the JEC Innovation Awards ceremony, on Wednesday 13 March at 4.30pm at the Agora stage.
Plans for the new system were originally announced at JEC World 2018 and today, SABIC and Airborne are beginning the transition to full-scale production, which is slated for the end of 2019. To preview this unique system, SABIC is presenting a 360-degree virtual reality experience called “Innovations of Scale” at its JEC World stand.
The new automated digital manufacturing system was built at Airborne’s facility in The Netherlands and is capable of producing four thermoplastic composite laminates every 60 seconds, totaling up to 1.5 million parts annually. Potential applications include cases and covers for consumer electronics, aircraft inserts, automotive components and sports 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,” said Gino Francato, Global Business Leader, Advanced Composites, SABIC. “Until now, however, their adoption has been restricted because of time-consuming, inefficient and expensive processes. By focusing on new materials and manufacturing automation to overcome these hurdles, the industry will make tremendous strides; and it is precisely efforts such as our collaboration with Airborne that are helping to make the industrialization of composites a reality.”
“The good thing about this collaboration is that we work closely together with SABIC, so the material development, automation technology development and the product development go hand in hand”, said Arno van Mourik, Chief Executive Officer of Airborne. “With such a holistic approach we can create real breakthroughs in cost efficiency for mass volume applications.”

Industrialization of laminate production using the new Digital Composite Manufacturing line will enable customers in diverse industries to mass-produce high performance thermoplastic composite parts, gaining advantages of faster speed, higher efficiency and lower costs. To allow JEC World visitors to experience first-hand the line’s automated conversion process, SABIC is leveraging virtual reality technology to put visitors inside the manufacturing facility. The immersive experience called “Innovations of Scale” features a 2-meter screen with touch capabilities and Dolby Surround Sound. Visitors to the stand can interact with the display by touching 10 different points on the screen – representing different features of the new automated digital manufacturing system – to learn more.

The Digital Composites Manufacturing line uses cutting-edge digital technologies, including robotics, to enable mass customization of flat laminates while reducing cycle times and cost. The highly sophisticated, fully digital system can run multiple laminate sizes simultaneously. Adaptive process controls allow settings to be modified almost immediately. Machine learning and artificial intelligence will be used to achieve continuous yield improvements over time, maximize quality and repurpose irregular parts to minimize scrap.
To support and enhance these capabilities, SABIC will offer customers a range of services including simulation-based part and laminate design assistance and guidance on hybrid molding processes in order to streamline the switch to composites. The company can customize its composite tapes and laminate products to meet customer requirements. Importantly, SABIC can leverage its wealth of experience in injection molding to help customers mitigate warpage, a common issue, by making modifications to part design, materials selection, and processing.

JEC World 2019 is running from March 12 to 14 in Paris, France. SABIC management and technical experts are available throughout the show to answer questions and share insights on the company’s portfolio of advanced composite materials and technical capabilities.