This PLATFORM project aims at developing open access pilot lines for the industrial production of nano-enabled products (buckypapers, CNT treated prepreg and CNT doped non-woven veils) for applications in composite parts for sectors such as Aeronautic and Automotive. The purpose of the project is to efficiently and economically manufacture the components using novel nanomaterials developed by the consortium and at a scale suitable for industrial uptake. The developed facilities will not only provide increased capabilities to the operating company but also offer a network of nano-based manufacturing facilities suited to the needs of related SMEs. A European platform of nano-enabled products pilot lines will be established to which companies, and more precisely SMEs, can gain access and make use of the facilities as well as the experience and knowledge of the operating RTO.
The starting point of the PLATFORM project is three pilot plants conceived to develop strategies for the incorporation of CNTs into composite laminates. Such plants have been developed within the framework of two European Projects (ELECTRICAL-ACP0-GA-2010-265593 and SARISTU-ACP1-GA-2011-284562) to manufacture three nano-enabled products: buckypapers (CNT sheets), CNT treated prepreg and CNT doped non-woven veils (the following section describes the three products in greater detail). Although other strategies have also been addressed, the three solutions proposed here have been chosen for their best comparative results and deserve further study to improve their performance in several applications. Their technology readiness levels (currently defined as either TRL 4 or 5) can be increased up to TRL 6 or 7 as all three technologies have already demonstrated their effectiveness for introducing CNTs into traditional manufacturing processes for composite laminates. We understand that at this point, composites with superior properties can be fabricated using a large-scale production.
The pilot plants were conceived at a lab scale and currently can only manufacture small batches of nano-enabled products. Currently, the three pilot plants require high levels of human intervention and lack of process control to ensure the quality and repeatability of the manufactured nano-enabled products. In addition, production yield is low with long lead times and high deffectivity. Consequently the cost of the resulting products is high. The automation of several steps in the manufacturing process together with re-designed layouts and the introduction of novel in-situ characterization methods and instrumentation for nanomaterials and nanomaterials-based intermediates will lead not only to a higher quality of the product but also to an increase in the yield and with shorter lead times. Final product cost will drastically reduce as a result of the decrease in production costs (particularly through reductions in both the energy consumption and raw materials). The impact on the environment will definitely be positive.