Cygnet Texkimp and The University of Manchester develop ground-breaking 3D winding tech for car and aeroplane lightweighting market

A cutting edge machine that winds carbon fibre into lightweight parts for automotive and aerospace has been developed by advanced engineering company Cygnet Texkimp and The University of Manchester.

The 3D Winder is the world’s first robotic 3D winding machine capable of making complex parts such as fuel pipes, cant rails and aeroplane wing spars. It can also be adapted to produce components for other markets including wind blades for the energy sector.

It is the result of a two-year Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between the Northwich-based manufacturer and The University of Manchester’s School of Materials to develop a new way of manufacturing composite components cost-effectively in high volumes and at high speeds.

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. It works by laying down carbon fibres much more quickly than traditional methods such as braiding and weaving, with trials showing it has the potential to wind an aircraft spar in just a few minutes.

As part of the KTP, the technology was further developed at Cygnet Texkimp’s R&D centre where the internationally-renowned fibre processing specialist designs and builds machines that convert raw fibres including carbon fibre into useful advanced materials and end products for the worldwide automotive, aerospace, wind energy, oil and gas and sporting goods sectors.

Cygnet Texkimp and the University appointed PhD graduate and composites academic Dr Yan Liu as KTP Associate and lead researcher on the project. This was so successful that Yan has now accepted a permanent role in Cygnet Texkimp’s R&D centre.

The company is now using a production-scale version of the 3D Winder to carry out advanced trials with international part manufacturers including the creator of lightweight carbon fibre structural components for the high-end automotive market, and one of the world’s leading automotive wheel manufacturers.

Luke Vardy, Managing Director of Cygnet Texkimp, said: “The 3D Winder revolutionises what the composites industry can achieve with winding. It offers compelling benefits to high-volume manufacturers in terms of cost and speed of manufacture, as well as the strength, uniformity and repeatability of the finished product.

“We’re standing on the threshold of a new generation of lightweight, fuel-efficient motorcars and aeroplanes, where demand for greater fuel efficiency and lower emissions is driving the need for better ways of producing and using intelligent materials such as carbon fibre composites. Our long-term objective is to see this technology adopted as a conventional way to produce composite parts throughout the world.

“Our achievements in partnership with The University of Manchester are a great example of the sort of pioneering work the British engineering and manufacturing industry is doing all the time. It’s also an illustration of the strength of knowledge and ambition we have right here in the North West, which is home to one of the most advanced and experienced composites technology hubs in the world.”