Three Tips from an Expert in Composites Design and Manufacture
Over the course of his career, Adaptive’s CATIA expert, Bart Schenck, CATIA Application Specialist has been a pioneer in the use of the CATIA V5 composites module, supporting aerospace, defense, industrial equipment, and nuclear industries as an operations technician, an account manager, and now, at Adaptive, a technical support engineer. He’s seen successes and mistakes in the arena of composite design and manufacturing, and he’s got lots of experience that he’s ready to share to help manufacturers do things the right way…
Composites is an especially challenging arena: few manufacturing or design processes exist that contain more variables than that of composites. That’s because in composites, manufacturers start with flexible material made up of fabric and resin, which has to be mixed at a perfect ratio, then formed to a precise shape, and then cured at the right temperature for an exact amount of time. That’s a lot more variables than carving away at a single block of metal or casting a metal part in a mold.
Schenck explains that the manufacturers he works with don’t often bid a manufacturing process, receive the contract, and produce. Instead, they typically have to prove they can do the work before the contract is awarded, by producing a single part and thereby demonstrating they understand the design received and can deliver the correct end result. Only then might they win the contract to produce tens, hundreds, or even thousands of parts.
Ensure you have personnel who have composites experience—either hire them or educate them
Composites are more of an industrial black art than a science, according to Schenck, and as such, there’s a lot of tribal knowledge held by those with significant experience in doing the work. Which means that the first key for manufacturers wanting to get composites right is either having the right people in place already—experienced composite engineers and manufacturing staff—or securing the training required to develop competency in the desired composite techniques and processes. In some cases, manufacturers may need to start with education or consulting to help select the most efficient and repeatable composites process for bidding on a contract.
Choose the appropriate composites process and understand associated tooling needs
After you’re sure you have the right people in place, the next vital step is determining the process you’re going to use, which begins with understanding the types of parts you need to create. The process you choose will also dictate the tooling you need—for example, a hand-layup requires tooling with a very low coefficient of thermal expansion so the parts don’t change size, since you’re curing parts in an oven or autoclave. Tooling is one of the hidden risks Schenck has identified over the years—he’s seen plenty of manufacturers make a mistake early in the process and incur a lot of risk and cost later on.
Make sure initial parts and tooling are accurate
With a clear understanding of the parts to be made and the chosen process—and tooling—to make them, manufacturers lastly should focus on the accuracy of the initial parts and tooling. In Schenck’s mind, the only way to ensure part and tool accuracy is to integrate software tools that will not only help manufacturers prepare digital models for the manufacturing process, but will also capture lessons learned and best practices as institutional knowledge for the future. Schenck can’t emphasize the need for accuracy enough. Manufacturers live and die by the accuracy of their parts, and he believes cutting corners on horsepower and capabilities that contribute to accuracy is simply foolish.
Given his experience, it’s no surprise Schenck recommends CATIA for composites—in his view, it leads the field in power and functionality. He gives an example of a frequent customer pitfall: not spending enough time with a part’s geometry up front—not considering that the engineering edge of part (EEOP) isn’t what the manufacturer needs to build to because they need to give themselves margin for the manufacturing process. With CATIA, it’s a simple process to extend the edge of the part to the manufacturing edge of part (MEOP) to ensure ease-of-manufacture and increase the likelihood of final part accuracy.
CATIA also captures the knowledge gained from each manufacturing process and stores it to help inform future work. With high turnover rates, attrition, and an ever-changing industry, it’s smart to be able to define and store digital processes that mimic real-world needs for physical manufacturing. It’s also smart to capture the tribal knowledge that typically only exists in workers’ heads.
Adaptive would be happy to share more information about CATIA’s composites capabilities, as well as Schenck’s extensive experience with both software and manufacturing processes.