How to Make Structure Production by Adding Reinforcement in Plastic?

Freedom to digitally design structures with continuous fiber trajectories enables 10x enhanced structural and other properties, this presents an opportunity to utilize composites in even more industrial applications.

05 Jul, 2022

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The engineers at Addcomposites with the Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) System

The engineers at Addcomposites with the Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) System

Research scholars working in this field have long waited to get access to such a system for testing new materials, optimizing structural constructions, gaining insight into the sustainable design of natural composites, etc. It is now possible to have a digital production system that can be installed in labs with little to no capital expenditure and in no time. Some possible research topics using the newly accessible system are discussed in this blog.

Stress concentration and Fiber steering

Any structural component's main function is to allow smooth stress flow to enable the transfer of loads and moments from one end to another. Continuous fibers are the most efficient load-carrying members, acting as smooth channels for stresses to flow, without any breakage. The matrix material joining the fibers makes sure that all the stress flows are equally distributed among these fiber channels. In order to build the most effective composites structure needs to make sure the stress flow is continuous, smooth, and well-aligned without any breakage. To achieve this you want to have:

  • Well distributed fiber along the stress flow direction

  • Optimal fiber volume fraction (FVF) ratio

  • No porosity in the matrix


Figure 1. The stress-trajectory patterns around the hole (Source: Science Direct)

A good example of such optimization is needed around the holes in structures. Holes are stress concentrators, especially when drilled through precured fibers. Steering is able to significantly reduce fatigue and creep while increasing the strengths of structural elements. Traditionally, increasing the strength of an element meant increasing the part's thickness, thereby increasing its weight. Parts that are reinforced by stress flow trajectories (ie, steered fibers) according to stress distribution allow for much more efficient structures. 

This approach in the research community is known as fiber steering, but the required equipment has been unobtainable by most research organizations. Here is the Fiber steering with Single-tow Automated Fiber Placement (AFP-XS) at Addcomposites (Espoo, Finland).

                                   Video 1. Fiber Steering with AFP-XS by Addcomposites

Stiff and compliant wings with selective fiber placement

The external edges of beams experience the most bending stresses (tensile/compression), while the internal core is along the neutral axis, experiencing shear stresses. The most common structure to combat these stresses is the sandwich structure that is so often associated with composites, which creates one of the best weight-to-stiffness ratios.


Stress Distribution in Beams with Irregular Cross-sectionsFigure 2. Stress distribution in Beam with Irregular Cross-sections

The key element in manufacturing with this approach is the core that can be 3D printed with any FDM printer in the desired surface configuration. The core needs to have an excellent in-plane shear strength, so it should be printed vertically for best results. The free flow skin surface can be laid with stress flow optimization on top of the FDM printed core.

A very good example of this approach can be seen in the upcoming drones. The stress flow-optimized wing can be created that can provide wing control without hinges, by optimizing the placement of the fiber on the surface of the wing. The simplified construction with sustainable energy presents a much more affordable flying and cargo shipment experience.

Figure 3. Future airplanes will fly on twistable wings (Source: IEEE Spectrum)

Large area 3D printers: Light and strong structures [1]

Fiber placement definitely provides many opportunities to optimize the fiber orientation and how it is placed according to conventional mechanics principles. The most underutilized aspect of fiber placement is the allocation of continuous material assets using selective fiber placement to deal with localized stresses.

Figure 4. Selective Fiber Placement Demonstrator


An excellent example of this approach is where the FDM printed core is reinforced within the Z-direction of print, reinforcing layer-to-layer bonding with the fiber running across the layer, creating the economically lightweight and stiff structure that is completely digitally produced.

Moonshot: Structural batteries [2]

Structural battery composites are a class of structural power composites aimed to provide mass-less energy storage for electrically powered structural systems. Structural battery composites are made from carbon fibers in a structural electrolyte matrix material. Neat carbon fibers are used as a structural negative electrode, exploiting their high mechanical properties, excellent lithium insertion capacity, and high electrical conductivity.

Lithium iron phosphate-coated carbon fibers are used as the structural positive electrode. Here, lithium iron phosphate is the electrochemically active substance and the fibers carry mechanical loads and conduct electrons. The surrounding structural electrolyte is lithium-ion conductive and transfers mechanical loads between fibers. With these constituents, structural battery half-cells and full-cells are realized with a variety in device architecture.

Laminated and 3D-fibre structural battery designs (the 3D-fibre battery illustration from Carlson TFigure 5. Laminated and 3D-fiber Structural battery

The structural battery composite is a novel lightweight material. Not only is the density of the composite material constituents very low these constituents also demonstrate exceptional ability to perform two vital functions for lightweight.

Firstly, carbon fibers are stiff and strong, with unprecedented specific mechanical properties. Carbon fibers also have exceptional electrochemical characteristics, with very high specific capacity and coulombic efficiency.

Secondly, structural battery electrolytes are now available that can efficiently transfer mechanical loads and transport Li-ions. As consequence, numerous structural battery composite architectures can now be realized. Having said that, there is still little research performed on how to design and manufacture positive structural electrodes.

A Solution for Research Freedom

Opening access to Automated Fiber Placement programming and simulation software i.e., AddPath will enable the researchers to explore different path planning strategies for design optimization. The cloud-based license will allow anyone to create programs and perform simulations for AFP on their personal or work computers, enabling digital composites additive manufacturing from home or the office.  You can download AddPath by following the instruction here.

                   Video 2. AddPath simulates the Tape Winding Triangle Tube virtually 

To support the researchers, Addcomposites has developed and published extensive resources, such as the Single-tow Fiber Placement (AFP-XS), robots from various manufacturers, sample projects, sample geometries, tutorials, and much more. The resources library is continuously expanding based on inputs from the composites community and adding further capabilities to support specific use cases. This year alone, AddPath has been implemented at 10+ institutes helping to simulate aerostructures, automotive components, and pressure tanks.  

For more information and knowledge about composites manufacturing, you can find it on our website and on the "Blogs" page. If you have further questions, please contact us directly and we are happy to support you.  




05 Jul, 2022

More about Addcomposites

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Addcomposites is the provider of the Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) ecosystem - including the Fiber Placement System (AFP-XS), 3D Simulation and Programming Software (AddPath), and Robotic Cells (AddCell). With the leasing program for the AFP system (AFPnext), composites manufacturers can work with... learn more

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