What are the Limitations to Consider when Designing for ATL or AFP Manufacturing?

As the ATL/AFP processes use a roller in all cases while laying the fiber-impregnated strips, this causes some inherent limitations in the part shape that can be produced. The limitations will be discussed in the article.

13 Jun, 2022

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Addcomposites' Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) System

Addcomposites' Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) System

As the ATL/AFP processes use a roller in all cases while laying the fiber-impregnated strips, this causes some inherent limitations in the part shape that can be produced. The limitation mainly comes from the mold, minimum fiber width, roller radius, and tool interference which will be discussed in the article below. 


The mold determines the final shape and surface finish of a composite part

The shape of the part required decides the shape of the mold. The mold is often the biggest roadblock in the initial stages of production. Thanks to the advent of 3D printing, now most molds can be 3D printed with high-temperature material. ABS printed molds would work well with the AFP-XS tool of Addcomposites due to its low heat application.

Most of the mold-making principle applies, such as consideration of internal cavities, as the part needs to be extracted from the mold. The key would be to avoid internal cavities to prevent extraction challenges or change the design of the mold to create a splitting plane that allows for easy removal of molded laminate.

Minimum fiber width

Paint roller applying paint is similar to laying fiber

The best way to visualize this is to think of it as painting a wall with a paint roller. In this case, the paint stroke is the fiber strip, and you are trying to cover the mold surface (wall) with this paint stroke. This is either going to cause overlapping of strips or spilling over the boundary of the desired surface.

The best practice is to allow a bit of spill and avoid any overlap in strips. This gives better structural integrity and provides a trimming allowance for smooth edges. Overlapping is also a quality defect in most applications, as it creates an uneven surface and results in a defective bond with subsequent layers. Overlapping can result in a scrap part depending on its location.

Roller Radius

The roller (Blue) cannot reach the corner, creating dead space during layup, called "bridging"

Reaching sharp corners in a room when painting walls with a paint roller is impossible. In a similar fashion, the tighter the corner of a part, the more difficult it is to layup with ATL or AFP.

When deciding on minimum radii for the part, think of the roller that is going to place the fiber. In the case of smaller radii, the fiber strips would not reach the corner and create an unwanted hollow space, called "bridging". This is unacceptable because it could lead to expedited deterioration of the part.

On the other hand, if you chose a larger corner radius (i.e. 1.5x the roller radius or higher) this would give a smooth surface with no defects.

Tool Interference

This is slightly tricky to take into consideration, as the tool is manipulated by a robotic arm that can move in many ways and interfere with the mold.

To ease the burden, our AddPath Software provides you with motion simulation and collision detection in the virtual environment, so you can make the necessary changes in either the programming approach or in the part mold.

With these four variables taken into consideration, you will be able to design, layup, and create a fully functional part using the ATL/AFP process. Now, go out and start creating!

A Solution from Addcomposites 

As automation becomes a necessity for manufacturers around the world, AFP systems are being developed by both commercial companies and Ph.D. level researchers for different applications. While the developed hardware is functional and places tapes as required, the software for programming the AFP process has been either oversimplified or overlooked entirely.

Understanding the rising demand, Addcomposites introduces open access to Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) programming and simulation software - AddPath for everyone to use. The open-access platform aims to enable students and academia to learn about the nuances of AFP during their courses, while researchers and SMEs can explore different path planning strategies for design optimization with the cloud-based license that allows 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 get open access to AddPath here

13 Jun, 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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