Composites parts manufacturer’s have been asking for an automated system to pick up plies from cutting tables and either organizing the plies into kits or to perform a direct layup of the plies onto a tool. In response to this demand to reduce the manual labor, errors and to enable significant improvement in ply traceability, ARM Automation has developed a unique robotic solution for ply picking and handling. This patent-pending tool head and system provides answers to several long-standing issues which have prevented the wider adoption of automation in production of traditionally hand-laid composites.
The system can identify where the next ply in the sequence is on the table and retrieve it. A sensor can detect if there are any uncut composites fibers that would prevent successful retrieval and an operator can be alerted. The ply will not be retrieved until the issue is corrected. If enabled, the same camera can detect FOD and alert the operator to inspect the ply further to determine if it can be corrected. Then, depending on the process that is selected, the ply can either be placed on a tray that can then be transferred to a freezer or depending on the tool, remove the backing and layup the ply as an operator would. This system is optimized for laying up quasi-isotropic flat charges purposed for spars and stringers.
By adding JETCAM’s CrossTrack material tracking system, each roll and ply can be tracked from the freezer to the actual final part. Only Composite Automation can supply this integrated end to end solution.
Ply-Picker Based System Solutions
Ply Picking Systems
One or more Ply-Picker head units can be configured to cover part or all of a cut table surface and kitting/layup area. Pick heads of various sizes can be fitted to any suitable robot or gantry positioner. Multiple heads can operate in tandem to clear cut tables at rates of up to 8 plys per minute, per head.
A 3 rd option for cut ply processing involves the use of a specially equipped Ply-Picker head to directly pick, inspect and laminate ply shapes onto fixed tooling. This solution provides a means of automatically producing flat, or even gently curved, preform layups. These preforms can then be manually retrieved for subsequent forming or use in manual layup processes. Included in the laminating version of the Ply- Picker is the capacity to inspect ply shape, detect FOD, heat and apply consolidating pressure as well as automatically remove backer material for disposal for most material types.
The most basic Ply-Picker implementation involves direct pick-to-kit operations. In this arrangement, plys are picked from a table in the reverse sequence required for layup and are gently deposited in a designated location. From here, kits can be manually retrieved and bagged or transferred to layup.
Automated Sorting Station
For applications that require mixing of plys from separate nests or sources into sequenced kits, a separate ply sorting station can be provided. This solution provides the end-user with the ability to automatically build kits for bagging and cold storage, or for mixing kitted materials offline and away from the cut table operations.
For applications in which sequential plys of a complete kit are not available within a single nest or table, or for cases in which dead stacking of plys is not desired, ARM Automation offers the “Kit-Cart™” ply management system. Here, cut plys are placed directly onto thin trays which are, in turn, loaded and extracted from one or more Kit-Carts by a fixed tray loading mechanism.
In support of manual layup operations, ARM Automation offers Kit-Cart Ply Presentation solutions which can control, track and sequentially present individual trays of select plys to manual layup technicians. This solution provides an automated means of ply sorting, material control and presentation without the need to physically shuffle ply pieces into sequence, manually track pieces after the automated pick and inspection process.