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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R041733/1
Title: Freeform Composites: Breaking Free from the Mould.
Principal Investigator: Fairclough, Professor JPA
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Mechanical Engineering
Organisation: University of Sheffield
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 January 2018 Ends: 31 December 2019 Value (£): 246,968
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Materials Processing
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
When making a carbon or glass fibre composite part, a mould is required. The mould supports the flexible composite fabric and adhesive while the adhesive sets. Once the adhesive sets the mould is no longer required. These moulds are expensive to make and wear out over time. As they are expensive, designs tend to change slowly, as the cost of the mould needs to be recovered by repeated use of the mould. But, what if, you only supported a small piece of the part while it cured and then moved on to other parts. Ultimately you could draw the part in 3 dimensional space, just as a pencil draws on flat paper.

The benefit of this would be the ability to create lightweight strong parts. Unencumbered by the restrictions of a mould, with fewer joints and therefore more resilient structures. Is this not already done with 3D printing? In essence yes and no, in 3D printing of composites, either short fibre in resin matrix are used (FDM type) or layers are cut to shape and placed on a flat bed, with successive layers added. Here the joins between the layers are weak and the flat layers are not oriented to give the strongest structures. This new system will produce optimal structures, emphasising the directional properties of carbon and glass fibre to create strong lightweight structures for bespoke engineering applications. These could find uses in new lightweight bridges, car parts, prosthetic limbs, even aircraft wings. The importance of this mould free process, is the fact that it can be easily scaled by building a larger robot. A large robot could therefore build a wing or a canoe whatever the customer required at that time. This new system would create truly flexible composite manufacturing.

Overview of Proposed Research.

The research will create low friction surfaces that will not foul with resin by using fluorinated polymer brushes lubricated by a fluorinated oil. The oil and resin are chemically incompatible and do not wet each other. This surface will be pressed into the composite fabric, deforming it into the required shape, in the same way that Two point incremental forming (TPIF) operatives on aluminium. As the fabric is deformed, the resin will be applied and the composite will be cured. In the first stage of the work by UV, for glass fibre (SMC) and thin carbon fibre panels, in the later stages by microwave curing. To create larger parts, wide carbon fibre tape (1-2cm) will be woven into mats. The ends of the tape will be fed into the system, (with new tape woven into it, as the tapes extend) creating new surface that can be subsequently cured. In this way a continuous weaving, pressing, curing process is created. This would allow for the first time the creation of freeform composite parts. In the early stages this will be limited to panel structures but the long term goal is to integrate this with 3D weaving technology.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.shef.ac.uk