by Eastman Machine Company Eastman Machine Company

Prepreg Processing: Considerations for Cutting Pre-impregnated Composites

Addressing the challenges of prepreg processing, including cutting, requires an understanding of what makes them different from other composite materials. Rather than reinforcing composite fibers or fabrics with resin after cutting and building, prepregs have been impregnated with resin prior to the manufacturing process.

Glass, carbon, or aramid are infused, layered, or coated with a resin such as epoxy resin, phenolic resin, polyurethane, polypropylene, vinyl ester, silicone, PU, or PTFE. The polymer used to create the prepreg composite depends on the material’s end-use and dictates the manufacturing process the material will endure. After cutting and molding, the prepreg composite is cured with a combination of heat and pressure, usually in an autoclave with a vacuum pump.

Prepregs present many advantages for manufacturers. Resins are added via machine, giving the producer more control over the ratio of fibers to polymer. This process is completed by the material manufacturer, rather than at the facility producing the final product. Aerospace, energy, and automotive businesses are able to streamline the manufacturing process by eliminating the need to store and apply resin separately. Companies in the wind energy, architecture, and sporting goods industries also rely on the benefits of prepregs.

Considerations for Cutting Prepregs

Many of the challenges of prepreg processing lie in cutting. Businesses must take into consideration the inherent properties of prepregs. This integral part of the manufacturing process is also unique to each end product. The right prepreg cutting solution must be functional, reliable, customizable, and versatile.

Functionality

The manufacturing process and end product dictate how a business approaches cutting a prepreg and its accompanying peel ply. A prepreg cutting machine must be able to adapt to the many ways manufacturers cut these layers. This may include removing the top or bottom peel ply layer (or both the top and bottom layers) prior to the material entering the cutter. Or, prepreg processing may require that only the peel ply layer is scored using a “kiss cut” method that leaves the composite itself unscathed.

A smooth, easy-to-clean cutting surface is essential, especially in manufacturing processes where the peel ply is removed prior to cutting. Eastman Machine recommends its polyurethane cutting belts because the material is easy to clean, ensuring the prepreg is not contaminated during cutting. Felt cutting belts can “shed” fiber particles and degrade the quality of the raw material.

An ultrasonic tool head, cutting at 20,000 oscillations per second, also helps address the challenges of prepreg processing. This type of tool spindle offers accuracy, speed, and repeated quality by reducing blade gumming and friction, even when cutting tacky materials. Reducing friction also minimizes the prepreg’s exposure to heat, which can cause the resin in the material to begin curing prematurely.

Reliability

Prepreg composites’ lifespan at room temperature is limited. Depending on the material, it may need to be cured within hours, days, or weeks of entering production. An efficient, reliable automated cutting solution is crucial to minimizing wasted materials and labor costs. Eastman’s machines are backed by decades of engineering excellence as well as industry-leading customer service.

Customizable and Versatile

Prepregs are used in a wide variety of industries because of their unique benefits. This means that prepreg processing varies dramatically across industries, businesses, and final products. The most effective cutting solution is one that is both customizable and versatile. Eastman Machine’s experienced applications specialists work with businesses of all sizes to determine which prepreg cutter, tool head, blades, and material handling equipment are best suited for their unique needs. These versatile solutions allow businesses to maximize their raw materials, labor, and production equipment.

by Eastman Machine Company Eastman Machine Company

How to Cut Carbon Fiber – Tips from Eastman Machine

Carbon fiber’s light-weight composition and incredible strength help the composite excel in a huge variety of applications, including the aerospace, marine, and sporting goods industries. The same features that make carbon fiber useful in so many applications can make the material difficult to cut. The ultra-strong fibers require a hard blade; lightweight fabrics woven from carbon fiber twist easily; and lightweight dust can become airborne, wreaking havoc on nearby electronics due to its high electrical conductivity.

Small or startup facilities may be tempted to use everyday tools, such as tile cutters or jigsaws, to cut carbon fiber. However, these methods do not deliver the tight tolerances necessary in aerospace, civil engineering, and other industries that benefit from carbon fiber’s unique features. Because carbon fiber is an expensive raw material—even when compared to other composite materials such as glass fibers—precise cutting and reliable solutions become even more essential.

Methods for Carbon Fiber Cutting

Deciding how to cut carbon fiber at your facility depends largely on the quantity and quality your end product requires. For more information on the right cutting solution for your application, contact Eastman Machine’s application specialists. Our team is well-versed in cutting both dry and prepreg composites, including carbon fiber.

Manual Cutting

Organizations that cut small volumes of carbon fiber may be able to rely on manual cutting machines. Depending on the application, rotary shears, straight knives, or round knives may offer acceptable cuts at an economical price point.

Automated Cutting

Digital cutting machines offer the precise cuts, high speeds, and automated approach required by many facilities cutting carbon fiber. Automated cutting also offers businesses the ability to customize their cutting machines. For example, Eastman’s tool head can be outfitted with two or three tool spindles from our vast catalog of more than 60 blades, punches, and notches. Dry carbon fiber is often cut with a round knife in order to crush and break the fibers. A 10-sided blade offers strength and versatility for cutting multiaxial carbon fiber cloth. Our ultrasonic tool head, which operates at 20,000 oscillations per second, provides a fast, accurate cut while reducing gumming and friction when cutting adhesive-backed composites.

The high electrical conductivity of carbon fiber particles can impact the delicate electronics crucial to automated cutting. Eastman’s digital cutting solutions are engineered to excel in all types of production environments, from clean rooms to harsh or high-particulate environments. Each machine’s controls and operating computer are housed in individual cabinets utilizing positive air pressure to keep out carbon fiber dust. This protective technology keeps controls and computers safe from both dust and water in facilities cutting dry carbon fiber. Cabling connectors, servo motors, and display components also meet industry-standard international protection rating requirements.

Carbon Fiber Cutting Tips

1. Use the Right Blade

Carbon fibers are strong and abrasive, making cutting them a potential challenge. Choosing the correct cutting machine and the right blade for your application allows you to minimize expensive scrap. Blades designed to cut carbon fiber are often made of tungsten, carbide, diamond, and other exceptionally durable materials.

2. Avoid Common Issues

The difficulties associated with cutting strong, lightweight composites—including carbon fiber—are familiar to many businesses. In order to find the best carbon fiber cutting machine for your products, look for a system that addresses delamination, burring, and overheating.

3. Prepare for Carbon Fiber Dust

Dry carbon fiber produces dust when cut. This dust has the potential to damage electronics, irritate operators’ lungs, and combust. While each of these scenarios can be easily avoided, it requires proper preparation and the right equipment.

by Eastman Machine Company Eastman Machine Company

How to Choose the Right Industrial Fiberglass Cutting Tool

Manufacturers have a multitude of reasons to design with fiberglass as a primary material for their products. Its versatility, strength, and insulating properties, along with its ability to resist corrosion from both water and chemicals, make it a low maintenance, long-lasting composite option. These qualities make glass fiber composites the material of choice for many industries, including marine and alternative energy applications.

Glass fibers are created by melting silica sand, limestone, and soda ash together and shaping the resulting liquid into fibers. The fibers can be either discontinuous (like those found in insulation) or continuous and woven into fiberglass fabrics. The fibers, assembled in various orientations, stay together thanks to the fibers themselves or mechanically stitched, non-structural threads. To manufacture the fiberglass panels often used in the marine and wind energy industries, these fabrics are impregnated with a resin and cured to form a strong, versatile composite.

In order to utilize fiberglass to its fullest potential, manufacturers must choose the right fiberglass cutting tools for their applications.

The Challenges of Cutting Fiberglass

While designing with fiberglass offers unique advantages, cutting and handling the material can pose challenges. The strength of fiberglass, as well as the demands of marine and wind energy manufacturing environments, means that your chosen cutting tool must be both durable and reliable. The right fiberglass cutting tools must be capable of cutting dry, wet, coated, or impregnated woven and multiaxial reinforcements and chopped strand mat. Fiberglass is available in many orientations—unidirectional, bidirectional, multiaxial, or random—and each construction method may impact the speed, throughput, and blade type necessary for your cutting system.

Industrial Fiberglass Cutting Solutions

Many industries, in both commercial and hobby applications, use glass fiber because of its versatility. It can seem as though there are just as many cutting solutions available as there are unique uses for fiberglass. Choosing the right cutting tools for your facility is easier with the help of Eastman’s experienced engineers and unmatched customer service.

Automated Fiberglass Cutting Machines

Choosing an automated, computer-controlled cutting machine allows manufacturers to balance output, speed, and accuracy. It also reduces manual handling, increasing operator safety. Consider the variety of composite materials you cut and the volume of each when deciding on the best tool to cut fiberglass at your facility.

To learn more about throughput and volume production of fiberglass with Eastman automated systems, check out the Fiberglass Brochure.

C125 Conveyor System

Eastman’s C125 Conveyor System is designed to cut a single glass fiber roll continuously. The machine’s reliability allows manufacturers to cut at a high speed for hours at a time for high-volume output. If your cutting files require an entire roll—or more—of single- or low-ply fiberglass textiles, the C125 may feel right at home on your manufacturing floor. Even with the ability to output around 1.8-ton of fiberglass per hour when cutting four-ply (including time for material loading and cut patterns collection), this automated fiberglass cutting solution is more accurate than cutting by hand.

S125 Static Table Cutting System

For a superbly accurate cut, choose the S125 Static Table Cutting System for your fiberglass. While this cutting solution requires a more manual approach, it also allows for switching between materials with ease. You won’t sacrifice speed for accuracy with the S125; at speeds of up to 60 inches per second, this fiberglass cutting machine offers the same capabilities as the C125 Conveyor System on a static surface.

Talon Multi-Ply

The Eastman Talon is the best fiberglass cutting tool for industrial applications that require high volume outputs. The Talon’s ability to cut massive amounts of fiberglass in multiple plies makes it an indispensable member of many manufacturers’ production floors. The Talon ensures quality cuts of glass reinforcement from top to bottom ply. It does so by utilizing an industrial, serrated-edge reciprocating blade coupled with patented knife control software.

Customizing Your Cutting Solution

Eastman Machine Company designs, manufactures, and supports its automated cutting solutions from its US headquarters. This distinct advantage allows Eastman to provide personalized customer service, from recommending the best fiberglass cutting tools for your application to minimizing downtime with US-based lifetime support.

Finding the right tool for your application starts with our complimentary test cut evaluations. The test cut uses your materials and patterns to determine the best configuration. Our engineers have developed a wide variety of customized solutions for facilities cutting glass fiber, from tool heads to material handling.

Tool Heads

For increased production flexibility and minimized downtime, many manufacturers cutting fiberglass opt for Eastman’s Heavy-Duty Tool Head. This unique tool head utilizes its own brushless servo motor and air supply. This technology allows the head to alternate between two different tools. Along with two cutting spindles, operations can also include a marking pen, rotary blades, notching tool, drag-style knife, or punching tool. An uninterrupted cut file can use any combination of cutting and punching tools, as well as the marking pen.

Eastman’s Standard and Fiber Tool Heads are also viable solutions, depending on the type of glass fiber you’re cutting.

Cutting Blades

Eastman recommends cutting fiberglass with a round blade in most applications. By design, the blade easily crushes and breaks materials containing glass fibers. Increased cutting pressure extends the life of the blade. Compared to reciprocating blades, a round blade cuts glass fiber with less fragmentation.

Closeup of blade cutting glass fiber

Fiberglass can also be cut with a 10-sided blade, which is engineered to cut advanced textiles like stitched fiberglass. This blade offers maximum versatility and adaptability when added to a heavy-duty tool head.

Material Handling

The right fiberglass cutting solution goes beyond the cutting tool itself. Eastman designs installations that include feeding systems and other material handling options for your production floor. Our feeding systems allow manufacturers to introduce rolled fiberglass textiles to the cutting table with accuracy and control, streamlining the production process. If you’re managing long cut pieces of glass fiber inputs, adding rewinders can minimize the need for manual labor. This is particularly helpful when cut parts exceed the table length and become difficult for operators to handle manually.

Roll of fiberglass fabric on cutting surface

Marking Systems

Additional cutting system options include marking systems, which print part identifications and sewing directives directly onto the material you’re cutting. For fiberglass, which may not allow for traditional printing, Eastman recommends the EasiMark® airbrush marking system or JetPRO(r) drop-on-demand inkjet printers for high speed, no-contact printing.

Manual Fiberglass Cutting Tools

The range of manual cutting tools suitable for cutting reinforcement fibers is just as robust as Eastman’s line of automated solutions. Straight knife cutting machines, like the Blue Streak II®, offer an industrial solution for stack cutting woven roving, biaxial reinforcements, and chopped strand mat. Eastman’s Buzzaird is an air-powered alternative for facilities where electric power is not sustainable. This fiberglass cutting tool includes several blade options to shear, chop, or slice through various technical fabrics and composite reinforcements.

by Eastman Machine Company Eastman Machine Company

Manufacturing Machinery for American-Made Products

Eastman Machine Company has a long history of American-made cutting solutions. Our family-operated business has engineered and assembled products in the United States for five generations.

From classic fibers to modern composites, Eastman’s US-based customers cut a wide variety of materials for their own American-made products. As a machinery manufacturer in the US, we help companies across industries continue production, even when global supply chains are interrupted.

The current state of the world has the potential to usher in “American manufacturing’s next chapter.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, the strengths of an American supply chain are on display. Companies sourcing their equipment and materials domestically have a distinct advantage in a time when efficient procurement matters immensely. These resources are more readily available and can arrive faster than their overseas counterparts.

This advantage benefits the end users of products made in America as well. Companies with geographically convenient suppliers, as well as designers and engineers located near their manufacturing facilities, can more quickly pivot to essential products. These companies can continue manufacturing their usual products alongside PPE and other in-demand items.

These advantages are highlighted by COVID-19 but they are by no means unique to the current pandemic. “[S]ince March [2020], the share of North American manufacturers who say they are interested in bringing their operations home has leapt 10% to 64%.”

Supporting American Manufacturers

Eastman is proud of its longstanding role within this supply chain, even as a part of the process that end users often don’t consider. Manufacturing companies in the US, including Eastman, form close relationships with their points of contact within the domestic supply chain, enhancing the quality of both the partnership and the finished goods.

Throughout more than 130 years in business, we have continuously designed and manufactured cutting machines engineered to meet the evolving needs of our customers. Our commitment to high-quality machinery manufacturing in the US is matched by US-based lifetime support for our machines. Because of the long term relationships we form with our customers, we’re able to help them adapt in times of change by providing innovative solutions, whether they’re manufacturing PPE or offering new products to their customers.

SeaCanvas’ S125 Static System

SeaCanvas usually makes custom marine canvas, for applications ranging from powerboat enclosures to sailboat dodgers, with its Eastman S125 Static Table Cutting System. Now, their Southern New Jersey facility is manufacturing face shields cut by the American-made S125.

Read more about SeaCanvas’ transition from marine to medical.

Saratoga Horseworks’ Eagle C125 Conveyor System

In the Capital Region of New York, Saratoga Horseworks’ Eagle C125 Conveyor System usually cuts custom equestrian equipment. Now, the computer-controlled cutting system, designed and manufactured in the United States, cuts face shields and isolation gowns.

Read more about Saratoga Horseworks’ commitment to sourcing innovative American-made materials and machinery.

America Knits’ Talon 25x™

America Knits prides itself on its American grown, American made apparel. This commitment to a domestic supply chain extends to its machinery as well. The Georgia-based manufacturer uses an Eastman Talon 25x™ as an essential component of its cut-and-sew facility.

Read more about America Knits’ efforts to manufacture PPE.