A fully-automated system, which is designed to protect the quality of sensitive fibres including carbon fibre while they are being wrapped, packed and palletised, has been created by UK machinery builder and fibre specialist Cygnet Texkimp.

The IP6x-rated, production-scale system has been commissioned for use in a new carbon fibre processing facility where it will be used to process 1,500, six-kilogram bobbins of fibre every six hours.

It has been built to reduce manual handling of delicate and valuable fibres, and uses machine handling technologies that are carefully designed to eliminate contact with the fibre, in order to safeguard its integrity and improve the quality and consistency of finished products.

Automated solution

“Oils and acids on our skin can impair the quality of sensitive and valuable fibres like carbon fibre, so our objective was to build a system that would process bobbins of fibre efficiently without the need to touch them,” explains Lee Simcock, Cygnet Texkimp’s product director for handling and automation.

“Dropped or bumped bobbins can easily be damaged, crushing the fibres, so it was crucial for us to incorporate technologies that would handle these bobbins with ultimate care.

“This also helps to eliminate issues when the fibre is fed from the bobbin onto a creel for the next stage of processing, which might be weaving or pre-preg production.”

From the time the bobbins have been loaded onto a pin cart to be transported to the picking bay, they are then untouched by human hand. A picking robot selects three bobbins at a time from the cart and lifts them by inserting a bellows-type gripper into the inner cardboard core of the bobbin. The gripper expands to hold the bobbin securely without touching the fibre. This design eliminates the production of FOD (foreign object debris) caused when the bobbin’s core or tube degrades through contact, which can be a problem in systems that use traditional core grippers; in particular those with serrated teeth.

The system has been specified to operate in an environment where carbon fibre is being processed, and built to IP6x standards. This means that all the electrical control equipment has been designed to operate in a carbon fibre environment, protected from carbon fibre dust and debris. Only the main and robot control panels are housed externally.

Heat-wrapping technology

Each bobbin is wrapped in a film sleeve before passing through a heat tunnel where the film is shrunk to fit securely around the bobbin, completely enclosing the fibre up and onto the core of the bobbin to provide high-level protection in transit and storage. This shrink-wrap technology means bobbins of various diameters can be wrapped using a single sleeve size. Another layer of efficiency is added by a perforated vertical seam, which makes the sleeves easier to unwrap when they reach their destination.

Packing, labelling and palletising

A bespoke labelling and barcode-scanning system is used to provide full traceability. A label on the inner core of each bobbin is scanned and recorded, and tracking data is applied to the label on the front of each box of bobbins. In this way, any problems identified with the fibre can be traced back to a specific winder and point in time, allowing the manufacturer to quickly pinpoint and rectify production issues.

To prevent carbon fibre dust coming into contact with the systems labelling equipment, case and pallet labellers are positioned in an IP6x-rated, positively-pressurised enclosure. The applicator head is released through a trap door to apply its label onto the wrapped bobbin or filled box, and the rapid change in pressure pushes any carbon fibre dust away from the label.

Six wrapped bobbins are picked by the robot and placed in each box, where they are secured by two die-cut boards to prevent them from touching. The robot then goes on to load boxes of bobbins onto pallets where they are wrapped and labelled for despatch.