Fibre-reinforced plastics (FRP) are used in the automotive sector or in the field of wind energy quite often. A major advantage over traditional materials such as metal, aluminium or wood is their low weight. Additionally, they have some outstanding mechanical properties. The production of FRP however is under great pressure from low wage regions. Above all small series with medium or high complexity are produced in labour-intensive processes in Asia. Large aviation or automotive companies found solutions to automate their production with specially designed systems. Still, those are quite expensive - too expensive for small and medium-sized companies (SME). Their core-competencies are not large series but their flexibility in the first place.
In order to make production more competitive compared to the one in low wage regions in the future, solutions for flexible automation with collaborating robots and semi-automated production cells have been developed at the Institute of Textile Technology at RWTH Aachen University. Together with their Belgium project partner Sirris, they put an eye on automation solutions concerning costs, complexity or even implementation effort. Additionally, production strategy and cost calculator tools were developed for SMEs to increase the productivity of their processes. Lightweight grippers for the working environment with human-robot collaboration were developed for the sensitive textile semi-finished products.
The project showed that small series can already be produced economically with semi-automated production cells. The economical analysis shows that semi-automation is already profitable with less than 100 construction parts. On the contrary, fully-automated process chains are only viable when the series is around 15 to 20 times larger. Especially high flexible automation concepts such as CNC-cutters, that can be adapted to the production of various components with low effort, are successfully implemented. Although their range and load capacities are limited, cooperation robots can play a key role in the field of FRP-production in medium-sized companies.
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Industrial Collective Research (Industrielle Gemeinschaftsforschung (IGF) - No. 212EN.