The Future of Composites Mass Production

Written by Aaron Miller.

For me, in this industry, the future is automation.  It isn't the first and wont be the last time I write a blog on it.  Composites are expensive to build.  The biggest reason they are expensive is labor.  Even offshore composite parts (don't get me started on whether we can do this domestically faster, better *and* cheaper) just cost too much to compete with traditional materials.  But take away the labour costs...

Like everything else today, our industry is absorbing the results of cheaper, readily available high tech equipment.  Not so long ago, CNC machines were the exotic installations of ultra-high end shops.  Now they're everywhere; I even have one I built from a kit in my garage.  Given 10 years, my bet is on finding automated fiber placement machines as commonly as you find CNC machines today.  Faster built composite parts, stronger through more accurate fiber placement, lower labour costs.  That's where I see the key to the growth our favourite industry. 

OK, so I bought a used two axis placement head online for my garage toy.  I couldn't resist. Who wouldn't want to get hands on with the future of our industry?

If you want to get hands on with the future of our industry, call us.  We *really* like what we do.

 

Sunny Days

Written by Aaron Miller.

SAMPE 2013 is over and it’s time for me to leave the sunny summer coast.

Monday I left Toronto sunny and 80⁰F. I get to Los Angeles to rain and 65⁰F. Show’s over, it’s Thursday night and guess what? Raining and 65⁰F. But enough complaining.

Sitting on a patio watching the sun go down on the Pacific ocean (ok not really a complaint), locals are wearing jackets and I’m sitting happily in a golf shirt. It reminded me of something: “room temperature” isn’t just the temperature the room happens to be.

Here in Southern California, and for many places, it’s pegged at 77⁰F. Back in Toronto, it’s usually said to be 20⁰C (68⁰F). For resins and adhesives which generate and need heat to cure, this is a huge difference. They call them “thermoset” for a reason.  

Why bring this up? We get hundreds of calls a year (usually in the spring and fall when temperatures vary a lot) about things curing too slowly or quickly. Our first question is typically “how warm is your shop?” and we are nearly always told “room temperature”. Then starts the discussion of difference between thermostat setting and measured local shop temps, substrate temps, material temps, heater placement, all the things which influence how warm or cold the material is where it’s actually being used.

We’re not just being fussy. Working times stated on technical data sheets are measured under very specific conditions, including temperature. Data sheets should always show gel time with mass and temperature. If your testing does not match those two conditions at least, I can promise you different results. Other things certainly influence this, but these two are critical and often overlooked.

Why bring it up from a patio in Long Beach? Because we feel it’s our job to ensure our customers get good predictable results using our products. Good technical support, experienced, hands on technical support is hard to come by these days. We know how fussy these things can be because we’ve experienced them for ourselves. So we’ll be fussy, and we’re convinced your projects will be better for it.

Now I’m going to finish my beer while I’m still warm and it’s still cold.

Field Trip

Written by Aaron Miller.

SAMPELBgraphic2013Figures.  Nicest Ontario weather in 6 months and I’m off to Long Beach California for SAMPE 2013: the Society for Advancement and Material Process Engineering technical conference.

The show is everything it sounds like, and every year I can’t wait for it. If it’s new, if it’s state of the art, if it’s the best our industry has to offer in advanced composites, it’ll be here. Really I’d rather they hold the California show in January during a North Eastern ice storm, but this land of eternal good weather has more to offer than just sun. Some of our biggest suppliers are based here, which is no surprise since it’s also the land of aerospace manufacturing. Airtech, PTM&W, Coastal Enterprises, Hexcel, even Duratec is made here.

So I’ll forgo a bit of nice Ontario spring for an opportunity to drop in at all these places in one trip. Four days isnt much time.   But if it’s new and it’s cool and it can help your business, I’ll find it, I’ll be back with it, and I’ll soon be visiting customers to show it to them.

Back soon!

Automated Composites

Written by Aaron Miller.

For me, one of the more interesting parts of our industry has been the race to fully integrate composites into the automotive industry.  Not so much the flashy clear finished carbon fiber parts showing up on performance cars, but run-of-the-mill production vehicles.

Radiator supports aren’t sexy, but can be made lighter. Lighter parts make more fuel efficient cars.  But, there’s a problem: the automotive industry has a hundred years of metal forming experience, and it’s very good at it. Stamped metal parts cost mere dollars each, and are hammered out at several per minute. Composites are….slow.

To change this, we need to apply the same automated techniques used for metal. Fully hands-free production. It’s led to some really great ideas. Automated cutting tables, robots picking and placing fabrics, automatic binder application, pre-forming tools, composites cured in dies and presses more reminiscent of injection molding.

We’ve been working with a company to apply a 90 second urethane resin that we sell to carbon fabric and extract a toughened, trimmed, finished part every three minutes. Even in development the process is awesome to watch. Even cooler is that the whole industry is just at the beginning. I can’t wait to see what’s next. Actually that’s not quite right. I can’t wait to help with what comes next. 

If you have an idea and you just know it can change the industry, give us a call.  We can't wait to help.

Concrete Solutions

Written by Aaron Miller.

BridgeCivil infrastructure: it’s constantly falling apart. Buildings, bridges and roads, all get built just in time to start a continuous process of deterioration. I complain about it as much as anybody else, but it’s the reason construction on the highways just never seems to be complete.

No surprise then that any technique to extend the lifespan of these structures is welcome. Fortunately for the composites industry, a great way to do it is to reinforce them with the best we have to offer.

Bridge decks have carbon fiber plates epoxied on to add tensile strength and years to their life. Concrete columns are wrapped with carbon straps to increase their compressive strength, both for longer life and when the buildings above get higher. Old foundations of are shored up with carbon fabrics when subway tunnels are dug underneath.

The coolest one I’ve seen? I had a customer pick up (pick up!) a centuries-old hotel, move it across the street, and then move it back without so much as a crack, thanks to the carbon fiber supported stone foundation. Something about that just seems anachronistic. But with the fiber and adhesive they used, it’s as high tech as it gets.

If you need a concrete solution, let us know. Composites Canada can help your project stand the test of time.

Miles and Miles of Composites!

Written by Aaron Miller.

Composites2013

We just came back from Composites 2013.  Put on by the American Composites Manufacturing Industry, it's the biggest composites event of the year. Always amazing how many new products get launched each year just before or at the show.

Check out some of the new (and not so new) products that received awards at Composites 2013.

The Awards for Composites Excellence gave out awards for: Innovation in Green Composites; Most Creative Applications; Equipment and Tooling Innovation; Material and Process Innovation; Composites Sustainability; and Infinite Possibility for Market Growth. 

At the same time, more than 3,000 composites professionals voted during the first annual People's Choice Awards for all the same categories.  Interesting to see the different results in the Industry's Voice: People's Choice Awards.

Look forward to seeing our customers and suppliers at next year's show.  Call us if you have any questions about new products introduced at this year's show - 1-877-773-7336 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Go Eco-Friendly With Flax Fibers

Written by Aaron Miller.

BiotexflaxtwillWe're excited to be bringing in a new eco-friendly fabric.  Made in the UK, Composites Evolution brings innovative ideas to traditional fabric technology.

Biotex Flax is a range of high-performance reinforcement yarns and fabrics based on natural flax fibre, and designed for fibre-reinforced polymer composite applications. The fabrics can be used with a wide variety of resins in processes including wet lay-up, vacuum infusion, resin transfer moulding (RTM), press moulding, pultrusion, prepregging etc.  The yarns are suitable for pultrusion and filament winding. Biotex Flax uses a unique Twistless Technology to provide optimum performance and impregnation, and can be processed in a similar way to traditional glass or carbon fibers.

Flax fiber fabrics are an ideal match to our AOC EcoTek Green resins and gelcoat technologies.

Whether you build high end custom composite furniture or the latest in performance canoes, flax fibers are new, they're strong, and they're an easy substitution in your exisiting process.

Call 1-877-773-7336 and ask for Aaron to learn more.

Composites In The Sky

Written by Aaron Miller.

CNTowerWe love the composites industry because it gives us contact with every conceivable application.

A few years ago, we headed to downtown Toronto on a foggy spring morning. Parking is easy that early, but finding an obscure service entrance to the CN Tower was way more challenging in the dark.

The upper dome of the CN Tower is fiberglass, specifically foam-cored fiberglass.  Huge curved panels make up the coverings of the observation decks. A tower that tall builds a lot of ice on the upper surfaces, ice which falls and can damage those composite panels. And that damage eventually needs repair.

So on that early morning, we ascended to the top of the tower – into the mast - to have a look at those panels in place.  The crew tasked to repair the ice damage wanted a review of materials, techniques, and options that could repair the massive panels in place - without lowering them to the ground. The details belong to the high-angle service company which did the work, but consulting on this job was just one more event to remind us of why this industry is never dull.

Why did Composites Canada get asked to consult? Basically they trusted our knowledge, people, and experience. And they knew we’d personally go up into the tower to find a solution with them.

Whether you’re working on the tallest building around, deep underground or on any other civil infrastructure, we can back up your project. We like what we do because we like what you do. Give us a call at 1-877-773-7336

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