CAMX is the largest composites expo in North America, and one of the largest in the world. In 2018 the expo was held in Dallas, Texas. As part of CAMX there are competitions for innovation and research in the field of composites. As a project, we decided that LayupRITE should apply for the Combined Strength Award and Much to our surprise LayupRITE was shortlisted as one of the seven finalists for the Combined Strength Category. This meant that LayupRITE would have an exhibit space in competition area at the CAMX trade show.
The expo took place between the 15th and 18th of October 2018 in the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Centre in Dallas. Being at the exhibit stand in the awards area at the show meant that LayupRITE got a lot of foot traffic with people curious about the project, the technology and its uses. The entire experience gave LayupRITE valuable international exposure and gave us a lot of interesting feedback and possible use cases.
The winner in the Combined Strength category was the XSTRAND project from Owens Corning, but being shortlisted for an award at such a large and prestigious show like CAMX was praise enough in and of itself. Looking forward to CAMX 2019!
Following on from Kinect Assisted Intelligent Layup (KAIL) project, there was a feasibility study to further develop the concept that would become LayupRITE. That project, funded by a University of Bristol Impact Acceleration Account award, laid the groundwork for what would become the current project. Titled Augmented Learning for High Dexterity Manufacturing the project was submitted for the Manufacturing Skills Fund call for funding by the Ufi Charitable Trust.
The Ufi Charitable Trust, born from the sale of Learndirect in 2010, has the aim of increasing the scale of vocational learning. Their main mantra is “better, quicker, digital”. This mantra aligns closely with the guiding philosophy of LayupRITE as a whole. The main difference for the project, given its background as a manufacturing support tool, is that Ufi supports vocational learning specifically. The skills training aspect was always intended to be a part of the LayupRITE offering but until this project there hadn’t been any study of how this could be applied.
Sufficed to say, funding to continue to develop LayupRITE is always welcome, but the bigger impact to the project was introduction to field of vocational training. This project has been a steep learning curve but has also shown the opportunities for this technology to be used in a different setting to deliver real benefit. The opportunity has been a welcome one and given us valuable knowledge and insight into the world of vocational training.
The LayupRITE system has seen several iterations over the various projects where it, and its predecessor Kinect Assisted Intelligent Layup (KAIL). All versions included three basic components: a projector, a Kinect and a PC to run both. The main difference between KAIL and the original version of LayupRITE was essentially a big hardware upgrade.
KAIL had shown the utility in marrying user tracking and projection to instruct composites layup, but the projector wasn’t bright enough to be used on carbon fibre materials in the expected lighting conditions of a clean room. A brief study was carried out to determine the power of projector required for this, with woven carbon fibre prepreg being the worst-case in terms of projection. Unfortunately, the worst-case is also the most likely use-case for the system.
In addition to a power boost an ultra-short-throw (UST) projector was used to try and mitigate some of the mounting issues with standard projectors. These projectors had to be mounted at a longer distance from the workspace and directly overhead, leading to a more complex gantry-style mounting solution. By using a brighter, UST projector we were able to get around many of the projection issues with the older KAIL setup.
 M. Such, C. Ward, W. Hutabarat and A. Tiwari, “Intelligent Composite Layup by the Application of Low Cost Tracking and Projection Technologies,” Procedia CIRP, vol. 25, pp. 122-131, 2014.
Training is key part of any job and in a process like prepreg layup it makes all the difference. Laying down and draping fabric can, from the outside, seem like a menial task, but when the material is as valuable as carbon fibre reinforced epoxy mistakes can be costly. There are two schools of thought on preventing mistakes: inspection – detect and identify mistakes as they happen to remove them, and training – make it so the laminators/manufacturers don’t make mistakes. In reality both are necessary. In the aerospace industry for example inspection is required for traceability and quality purposes. Training is required because the manufacturing process is complex, and training is more cost-effective than attempting to completely mistake-proof the process.
What LayupRITE was envisioned as was a system which can direct laminators on location of plies and sequence of events, particularly draping plies, and in later versions also inspect and accept the layup. This vision has evolved to include a more complete vision for laminator training, but more on that in a later post.