The University of Manchester has teamed up with Northwich-based hi-tech manufacturer Cygnet Texkimp to create the UK's first 3D Winder, a machine to support the next generation of fuel-efficient cars and airplanes.
According to the UK government, the device is the world's first robotic winding machine of its kind - capable of laying carbon fibre to make complex, lightweight composite parts for industry.
The 3D Winder builds on a prototype from the university's School of Materials and comes out of a 2-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP).
Through the KTP, Cygnet Texkimp brought in PhD graduate and composites academic, Dr Yan Liu, to develop the tech to work with more complex and curved shapes.
The new machine, therefore, uses a technique called filament winding to create complex components such as fuel pipes and aircraft wing spars, which are the main structural members of the wing.
It does this in a cost-effective way by working in high volumes and at high speeds. Trials have shown it to produce parts much quicker and to a higher integrity than traditional methods such as braiding and weaving and it has the potential to wind an aircraft wing spar in just a few minutes.
"The 3D Winder revolutionises what the composites industry can achieve with winding," said Luke Vardy, managing director of Cygnet Texkimp.
He continued: "It offers benefits in terms of cost and speed of manufacture as well as the strength, uniformity, and repeatability of the finished product. There is nothing else like it on the market at the moment. It is the first machine of its kind."
Since finalising the project, a production-scale version of the machine is now being used to carry out advanced trials with international part manufacturers, including one of the world's biggest automotive wheel manufacturers.
The very lightweight quality of composite components is also said to make the 3D Winder ideal for the aerospace and automotive sectors.
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