UK machinery maker’s winding tech to disrupt fibre industry  

Cygnet Texkimp has developed a 3D winding technology for the automotive and aerospace lightweighting market; the company’s managing director, Luke Vardy, explains why the 3D winding machine could be a game-changer in the fibre manufacturing industry.

Cygnet Texkimp’s 3D winding technology for the car and aeroplane light weighting market could disrupt the fibre industry.

A cutting-edge machine that winds carbon fibre into lightweight parts for the automotive and aerospace industry has been developed thanks to a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) between advanced engineering company, Cygnet Texkimp and the University of Manchester.

Luke Vardy, managing director at Cygnet Texkimp, explained to The Manufacturer: “About four years ago, the University of Manchester started expressing interest in partnering with us.

“They were taking their nine-axis concept forward and we started helping them to upgrade it on site, just as part of the university project.”

The 3D winder is a robotic 3D winding machine capable of making complex parts such as fuel pipes, rails and aeroplane wing spars; it can also be adapted to produce components for other markets, including wind turbine blades for the energy sector.

A fruitful collaboration with Manchester University

Vardy stated: “When we started working together, the technology was on a technology readiness level (TRL) two, and the University was trying to nudge it to a three or a four. As a result of the collaboration, we ended up turning it into a KTP, and through our work together we’ve taken the technology to a TRL six.”

The machine is based on the 9-axis robotic winding concept first developed by the University’s professor Prasad Potluri and uses a technique known as filament winding. Vardy explained that there are two equivalents in machinery capability on the market – braiding and filament winding machines.

“Material manufactured on a braiding machine is very slow to produce, it currently takes one to two meters per minute, and braiding is not good for the fibre in terms of fibre stress resulting in weakening its structure, as a result, more fibre needs to be used.

“A filament winding machine allows you to lay fibre down much more quickly, but the deposition rate is not that high: you’re limited in the number of tows and therefore the amount of fibre you can lay down in one go. The 3D winder accelerates the speed and maintains fibre integrity.”

The company’s core business: making fibre strong

Vardy said that the 3D winding machine strengthens the company’s USP because the business is built around one major goal: treating fibre in the best way to make it as strong as possible.

“There is inherent strength in the fibre which we’re always trying to maximise, the problem is that every time you touch the fibre, take it round an angle, apply tension to it or rub it, you end up damaging and weakening it.

“We design machinery that understands those contact points, rub angles, the deviation of the fibre and their impact on fibre quality, to ensure that when it gets to the end-product, it’s in the best possible condition. That is what we do across all our machinery: maintain fibre integrity.”

Vardy said that the manufacturing industries are on the threshold of a new generation of lightweight, fuel-efficient motorcars and aeroplanes. The demand for greater fuel efficiency and lower emissions drives the need for better ways of producing and using intelligent materials such as carbon fibre composites.

The company’s long-term objective is to see this technology adopted as the standard way to produce composite parts throughout the world.

Vardy said: “Many automotive companies have shown an interest in purchasing the 3D winding machine. They want to manufacture things like crash beams, carbon fibre wheels, rails, A posts and B posts. Other applications include yacht masts and wind turbine blades and towers.

“The 3D part of the winding machine enables us to follow curves and corners to create complex parts in high volumes. That is a little bit different to other technologies.”

An invention that will disrupt the industries

Currently, manufacturing techniques are quite slow and laborious; the part price gets more expensive, so it is harder for them to justify use.

“However, the 3D winder allows manufacturers to create components that are more cost-effective, because of laying down the fibre much more quickly; and manufacturers can use less fibre to create strong parts. It is a win-win situation.”

About Cygnet Texkimp

The company manufactures custom machinery for the fibre-handling and converting industry, its business is focused in the technical materials market, but the company’s roots go back to the traditional textile market of the 1970s.

The company was formed in 1974 by textile engineer and company chairman Colin Smith to manufacture unwinding creel technologies for the traditional textile market, predominantly in the UK.

As the traditional textile industry started to move to Asia, Smith set up a new company called Texkimp to serve growing technical textile markets including tire cord, and poly tape for carpet backing and geotextiles.

In the past four decades, the company, which created some of the first ever carbon fibre creels for the military aerospace sector, has evolved with a portfolio that includes advanced creels, prepreg, coating, tape-slitting and filament-winding equipment for the international aerospace, automotive, wind energy and sporting goods sectors.

Regardless, the knowledge gained from those early years in traditional fibre handling still runs deeply through everything the company does, and the fundamentals of fibre handling make up the guiding principles of every piece of machinery the company designs and builds today.