Thermoplastic press supplied for aerospace industry

20th October 2017

Thermoplastic press supplied for aerospace industry

HOT OFF THE PRESS The Hytec-supplied 400 t thermoplastic press is used in deep-moulding composite materials for components in the aerospace industry

Hydraulic components and turnkey hydraulic systems supplier Hytec Cape Town designed and constructed a 400 t thermoplastic press containing hydraulic components, for composite materials supplier AAT Composites, Hytec announced last month.

A Recaro Group subsidiary based in Somerset West, AAT Composites’ newly constructed press is capable of deep-moulding composite materials up to 1 m2 for use in the manufacturing of components, such as seat pans and interior panels in the aerospace industry.

Awarded over considerable competition from international manufacturers, Hytec, with the assistance of a local mechanical engineering company and an electrical company, was able to supply a complete, integrated press machine – a turnkey solution from a single supplier that was tailored to suit AAT Composites’ specific production requirements – as opposed to modifying an imported press.

Resin-impregnated cloth is first suspended in trolley frames for moulding. The machine has an infeed-loader to preload trolleys while a cycle is in operation, plus an automated feeding system to precisely transfer the trolleys from one station to the next. A preheater with two sliding drawers, each containing 99 ceramic heating elements, preheats the resin-impregnated cloth to 450 ºC prior to moulding and curing. The material then has to be transferred into the press within three seconds and the preheated moulds closed quickly in order for moulding and curing to take place at a maximum temperature of 280 ºC.

Once the thermo-forming duration has been completed, the press opens and the part is transferred to the out-feed station for manual removal. All these functions require precise real-time control, as neither of the individual functions has the same operating duration. The machine is designed for safety and operator protection and a supervisory control and data acquisition system provides visualisation and control of the production process.

“Special consideration had to be given to avoid heating of the press structure and, in particular, the platens and guides, as any fluctuations would alter the 0.2 mm flatness tolerance of the platens. An insulating layer together with cooling platens enables the heating of press moulds as opposed to press platens,” explains Hytec Cape Town systems engineer Max Hoffmann.

This also serves to reduce energy consumption as heating is limited to the size of the moulds installed. Press platen cooling was excluded on request of the customer, however, it can be easily retrofitted.

A range of Bosch Rexroth hydraulic components are used across the system. These include a standard press-control manifold (with latest European Union safety features such as double load-holding and spool-position monitoring on all critical directional valves), and proportional displacement and pressure control with a 30 kW electric motor on the hydraulic power unit.

The main ram, supplied by sister Hytec Group company Hytec Engineering, is a single-acting displacement unit with a 450 mm diameter and 700 mm stroke. Fast extend and retract uses two 80/50 × 700 slave cylinders (one with LVDT for position monitoring) which also aid in pressing. The automated feeding system is powered by two variable-speed drives with a pneumatic in-feed loader.

“This was an exciting project to be a part of, and is a great advertisement of the technical competency and capabilities of Hytec Group to the country,” Hoffmann concludes.