Maximizing Composite Material Utilization
Because carbon materials are expensive, sometimes require long lead times and are often difficult to procure, maximizing the number of cut parts from a single piece of carbon material is imperative. While assembly of composite parts remains a largely manual process, advances in automated nesting, cutting and kitting systems help improve product quality, maximize the use of costly materials and minimize errors.
Automated Nesting Software Maximizes Material Utilization
Maximizing material usage is important for all businesses but is critical when cutting costly composite materials. Nesting is typically done using a CAD system. However, in most industries, it is common practice to nest each job individually, and not combine jobs, for fear of complicating the downstream kitting process. However, by nesting multiple jobs from the same material, automated nesting software has a greater choice of parts to nest, and therefore greater opportunity to compact parts more tightly together.
Field tests have shown a 4 percent savings in composite materials when using automated nesting over manual nesting. Automated nesting software enables manufacturers to combine several jobs and nest parts using multiple algorithms to find the highest material utilization. Because the software is designed specifically to nest composite plies, it controls ply placement within the nest to ensure accurate ply orientation and integrity. With this software, users can automatically generate nests 24 hours a day without human intervention to meet peak production demands without additional labor costs.
Financial Returns from Automated Nesting Significant
Carbon materials cost from $50 to $400 per square meter and more. In tests using customer data, a 2 to 5 percent improvement in material usage resulted in more than 170mm of material savings for a small cutting table session. In our conservative example, we saw the following savings:
- 2.1% savings resulting in 170mm per roll of additionally available material
- 2 table cuts per hour x one 8-hour shift per day resulting in 2.72m savings per day
- A 225-day work year yields a savings of 612m per year
- Assuming a conservative material cost of $150/m x 1.5m roll x 612m per year results in a savings of $137,700
Using powerful automated nesting software can yield these results, repeatedly. Adapting the simple calculation above to your own situation can result in significantly higher returns.
Automated Cutting Ensures Superior Cut Part Quality and Maximizes Throughput
Automated cutters for composites are available in static and conveyorized formats. Having been available for decades, static cutters are tried and true. They improve throughput significantly versus manual cutting. Today, however, more and more aerospace companies are turning to conveyorized cutting systems because they maximize floor space, cut any length marker and accelerate the entire process because material is cut directly from the roll. Automated cutting with either configuration enables users to eliminate buffer around parts. Parts can be nested very closely together, sometimes even line on line, and can be nested to the extreme edges of the material. Also, parts can be cut inside parts [some parts have internal holes and this material would be wasted using manual cutting methods]. Quality and accuracy improves significantly, as computer-controlled blades follow the line consistently, which is not possible when cutting manually. In aerospace applications, cut part quality is critical to ensure quality on the finished product. Further downstream, accurately cut parts improve productivity in the assembly process because components fit exactly as they were designed.
Laser-Guided Kitting System Helps Workers Assemble Accurate Kits
It is a common sight in a facility where composites are being processed to see individuals clearing cut parts from the bed of a cutting machine in bulk [collected roughly as they come off the machine in random order] and taking them to a separate table for sorting. This is inefficient in three respects. First, space is required to store unfinished kits as operators wait for the final components to be cut; second, it requires non-value-added relocation of parts and, third, it is prone to error. All of this is done to clear the bed of the cutter quickly to maximize uptime of the cutting system.
LaserKit™, a new patented laser-guided kitting system from Virtek,eliminates the kitting bottleneck from the manufacturing floor. This system helps workers assemble accurate kits by indicating the correct sequence of plies to be picked from the cutting table. It projects the outline and any identifying information on each ply, guiding workers through the proper sequence of picking from the first ply to the last. The result is fast clearance of cut parts, in the correct sequence, enabling operators to quickly clear parts and accurately assemble kits at the same time. In addition, manufacturers can now nest parts from several jobs together without the worry of mixing kits. This system also makes it possible for more than one individual to clear cut parts quickly and accurately, further improving cutter efficiency. Using nesting and kitting tools together results in fabric savings, increases uptime on the cutter, eliminates redundant cut part handling and associated labor costs, and eliminates kitting errors.
Field tests reveal that automated cutting and kitting improve productivity by as much as 40 percent. The laser kitting tool is critical in eliminating errors caused by incorrect ply order within a kit, particularly when picking similar plies from the same section of the cutting table. With laser-guided kitting, it’s no longer necessary to create nests based on how cut plies will be picked. To maximize material utilization, multiple kits can be nested together, cut and then picked from the same table – without errors.
Using a suite of automation solutions designed specifically to maximize utilization of composite material, users consistently achieve significant material savings, the highest cut part quality and, as a result, superior component quality.
- Field tests have shown a 4 percent material savings when using automated nesting over manual nesting.
- Manufacturers stand to save thousands of dollars annually on material when using laser-guided kitting because automated nesting systems can nest multiple jobs together.
- Tests reveal that, when automated cutting and laser-guided kitting systems are used in conjunction, productivity improves by as much as 40 percent.
Additionally, laser-guided systems are available to ensure fast, accurate layup of composite plies.
All of the above technologies are available and are implementable within existing manufacturing operations with little disruption. All greatly increase overall productivity and quality, while delivering a solid return on investment primarily through materials savings and component quality.