About the Alfond Advanced Manufacturing Lab For Structural Thermoplastics

Overview

The mission of this lab is to increase the market prevalence of structural thermoplastics through the demonstration of automated, advanced manufacturing techniques.

The Alfond Advanced Manufacturing Lab was developed to facilitate research in long-fiber reinforced thermoplastic composites. Researchers analyze current manufacturing processes in place for thermoplastic materials and focus on the development of new, innovative processes for decreased cycle time, reduced waste, enhanced repeatability and consistent part quality. Research and development is aimed at discovering mechanical properties, viscoelastic properties of heating and forming, and computer-simulated modeling techniques for fiber reinforced thermoplastics.

The lab focuses part of its research on a process called tape layup, in which spools of pre-impregnated thermoplastics tapes are cut to length, orientated, and ultrasonically welded on a 2-axis motion table. The table’s ability to both translate and rotate allows for engineering of tailored blanks which are laid up to a specified gauge. This process minimizes waste while decreasing both the time and cost for developing high strength structural components as well. The tailored blanks are then heated and formed in a 700 ton, fast reaction manufacturing press.

The lab also devotes a large effort to the development of 3D printed thermoplastic molds using a Fortus 900mc 3D printer which allows additive manufacturing of parts up to 36” x 24” x 36” using 13 different thermoplastic resins. The printer uses high performance thermoplastic polymers such as ULTEM 9085 or ULTEM 1010, otherwise known as polyetherimide (PEI) blends, or polyethersulfone (PPSF/PPSU) at temperatures as high as 400°C.

These high performance polymers provide enough thermal stability for the production of thermoplastic molds. The concept uses these high temperature molds for thermoforming of reinforced lower temperature thermoplastics that have been pre-processed into tailored blanks. The blanks are later placed in a hydraulic press for thermoforming.

Partnership Opportunities

We work with corporations, government agencies, and academic institutions of all sizes to partner on research, development, and commercialization projects, such as:

  • Process and tooling development
  • Proof of concept demonstration and economic analysis
  • Substituting thermosets and metals for thermoplastics
  • Joint U.S. research and development funding opportunities
  • Finite Element Analysis
  • ASTM Material and Structural Testing
  • Long-Fiber Thermoplastic Forming Simulations via PAMFORM

Meet the team