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The National Aeronautical Research Institute (NIAR) from Wichita State University (WSU) is expanding its portfolio of future composite production technologies with CevotecSAMBA Pro Prepreg system. As the first fiber patch placement (FPP) system in the United States, it reinforces NIAR’s leadership position in aerospace and composites R&D. The system was commissioned in mid-February 2022 at NIAR’s Advanced Technologies for Aerospace Systems Laboratory (ATLAS). This is an important step in establishing FPP technology as an advanced composite manufacturing technology for aerospace components internationally and creates new R&D opportunities for US customers and interested parties.

Cevotec’s SAMBA system expands NIAR’s portfolio in the field of automated production technologies. Since the FPP enables fully automated placement of very complex shaped parts and is compatible with a wide variety of materials, it is the perfect enhancement to existing robotic production equipment, such as advanced placement of fibers and automated taping systems at NIAR.

“With the addition of the SAMBA system, we can now automate the fabrication of composite parts that were geometrically too complex for automation while precisely controlling fiber orientations to optimize part design,” said NIAR’s ATLAS Director. , Dr. Waruna Seneviratne. “We are currently designing several demonstration parts and certification protocols to showcase the benefits of FPP for complex aerostructures.”

The SAMBA system is equipped with two in-process inspection systems for quality assurance. The first system inspects the quality of each patch, rejecting those with defects, and the second system ensures accuracy at the placement gripper prior to draping. One of the new features of the SAMBA Pro Prepreg system is the ultrasonic cutting unit. Thanks to the improved cutting performance, especially for prepreg materials, various sizes of rectangular shaped patches with an area weight of up to 300 g/m² can be cut from the fiber sliver. Featuring advanced material cooling, the SAMBA system can process a wide variety of carbon fiber, fiberglass and other engineered materials in both dry fiber and prepreg configurations.

The SAMBA system works with a large 6-axis tool manipulator and a fast 4-axis SCARA placement robot with three different gripper sizes. Available in sizes ranging from 45 mm x 90 mm to 60 mm x 240 mm, the gripper adapts to very complex surfaces. Patches can be placed on 90° angles and on biaxially curved surfaces without negative draping effects. Despite the great complexity of the possible overlay shapes, a high surface throughput of up to 9 m²/hour is achieved.

“With our American partner Compound Automation, we are truly proud to install a SAMBA Pro system at NIAR, the premier aeronautical research institute in the United States,” says Thorsten Groene, CEO and co-founder of Cevotec. “This is an important step in bringing FPP technology to U.S.-based composite manufacturers, and we look forward to working with NIAR to advance the FPP process and applications.”

John Melilli, President and CEO of Composite Automation LCC, is convinced: “The disruptive and flexible FPP technology will help drive the development of aerospace composites at the important Wichita site.

NIAR’s new system will open several options to interested manufacturers for evaluating FPP technology for their purposes, including development of new applications and processes, integration with existing processes, prototyping and testing.

Cevotec and Composite Automation will be exhibiting at the SAMPE Conference and Expo May 23-26 in Charlotte, NC. Interested parties can meet the team at booth S30 and discuss potential collaborations regarding the new SAMBA Pro Prepreg system at NIAR. In Europe, Cevotec and NIAR will also exhibit their solutions and services at JEC World from May 3 to 5 in Paris.

The production systems of the Munich-based automation specialist Cevotec enable the automated laying of carbon fibers, glass fibers, adhesive films and other technical fibers on complex 3D geometries. FPP technology can produce multi-material composite aerostructures, composite pressure vessel reinforcements and other high-performance components in a fully automated, quality-controlled layering process.

Established in 1985, NIAR has an annual budget of $96 million; a workforce of 650 people; and nearly one million square feet of laboratory and office space in four locations in the city of Wichita, Kansas. NIAR provides research, design, testing, certification, and training services to aerospace and manufacturing industries, the FAA, the Department of Defense, and other government agencies.

Composite Automation LLC, a manufacturer’s representative in North America, is solely focused on the composite manufacturing space.