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Manufacturing Science and Engineering Conference



Composites 4.0 is the implementation of Industry 4.0 concepts to plastics and composites manufacturing with the goal to overcome the complexities associated with these materials. Due to very complex process-structure-property relationships associated with plastics and composites, a wide range of process parameters need to be tracked and monitored. Furthermore, these parameters are often affected by the tool and machinery, human intervention and variability and should thus, be monitored by integrating intelligence and connectivity in manufacturing systems. Retrofitting legacy manufacturing systems with modern sensing and control systems is emerging as one of the more cost-effective approaches as it circumvents the substantial investments needed to replace legacy equipment with modern systems to enhance productivity.

The goal of the following study is to contribute to these retrofitting efforts by identifying the current state-of-the-art and implementation level of Composites 4.0 capabilities in the plastics and composites manufacturing industry. The study was conducted in two phases, first, a detailed review of the current state-of-the-art for Industry 4.0 in the manufacturing domain was conducted to understand the level of integration possible. It also helped gain insights into formulating the right questions for the composites manufacturing industry in South Carolina. Second, a survey of the plastics and composites manufacturing industries was performed based on these questions, which helps identify the needs of the industry and the gap in the implementation of Composites 4.0. The study focuses on the three leading composite manufacturing industries: injection molding, extrusion, and 3D printing of thermoset and thermoplastic materials.

Through the survey, it was possible to identify focus areas and desired functionalities being targeted by the industries surveyed and concentrate research efforts to develop targeted solutions. After analyzing the survey responses, it was found that updating old protocols using manufacturer support and customized integration of cost-effective solutions like retrofit kits, edge gateways, and smart sensors were identified as best-suited solutions to modernize the equipment. Composites 4.0 is already being implemented for Preventive Maintenance (PM), Manufacturing Execution System (MES), and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to some extent, and the focus is on process optimization and equipment downtime reduction. The inferences drawn from this study are being used to develop highly targeted, supplier-agnostic solutions to modernize legacy manufacturing assets.