Thermoplastic composites are increasingly being considered for large volume applications that involve replacing incumbent materials such as metals. The Consumer Electronics space in particular, offers an interesting opportunity to capitalize on the performance of fiber-reinforced composites because of the general need to go to thinner structures while being frugal with changes in weight in applications like mobile computing and communications [1, 2]. These applications tend to lean towards a large part build volume, typically in the range of a million parts per year. The model platform also tend to be short lived, which means there is a constant need to stay on top of what the customer's perceived needs are and adapt accordingly with new models. This makes the designed flexibility of the manufacturing line very important. All of this creates the perfect opportunity to explore automation driven production approaches. The development challenges however for this automation driven production approach were identified to be: high speed production, with minimal scrap and minimal human intervention resulting in low conversion costs, while still maintaining a high degree of flexibility .
An end-to-end automated manufacturing line in which all steps are integrated and automated into a consolidated system, thus producing a constant production flow was developed through a partnership between Airborne and SABIC. In many cases, automation technology is developed separately from material development community, yielding sub-optimal results. Here we take a holistic view and develop the most effective technology taking into account all these aspects, in material development, automation and product design. The technology developed is also suited for high-end products in other markets, such as automotive, aerospace or sporting goods.
The ultimate goal of this line is to be fully digital and designed for minimal human intervention. It features full in-line inspection of the input material as well as the finished part. This information is processed in real time allowing online process optimization to adapt the process settings on-the-fly, based on the measured data and required output quality. Ultimately, this can deliver flexibility in order to accommodate changes that the industry demands.
 Malnati P., Francato G., Yaldiz R., Scott D., Stanworth A. Consumer Electronics: hybrid composite cases/covers. Composites World Magazine, August 2019.
 Muilwijk M., Yaldiz R., Kremers M, Verghese N., Van Zyl, A., Industrialized and digital manufacturing of Thermoplastic Composites, ITHEC, November, 2018.
SABIC, The Netherlands