University of Bayreuth, Presse release No. 030/2023 - 24 March 2023

Intuitive robot control: New project for the automatic production of ceramic matrix composites

Ceramic matrix composites are characterized by their ability to withstand very high operating temperatures and shock-like temperature changes and also by the fact that they are not susceptible to wear. Automating a fiber spraying process for the production of oxide ceramic matrix composites and at the same time making it highly flexible is the goal of a new project involving computer science and engineering at the University of Bayreuth. Intuitive robot programming is intended to enable companies to manufacture short-fiber-reinforced oxide ceramic components on demand, even in very small batches. The "FlexFiber" project is being funded by the DFG with a total of around 700,000 euros.

Short fiber reinforced oxide ceramic composites have been little researched to date, but are suitable for a wide range of applications in high-temperature lightweight construction, for example in the aerospace and energy industries. Tailor-made production of components from these materials relies on experts who know how the necessary fiber spraying processes must proceed. It would be attractive if these experts could control a robot without much effort so that it could carry out the complex fiber spraying processes precisely and reproducibly, even in small batches. This is exactly where the new Bayreuth project "FlexFiber" comes in. It aims to develop a robot system that can be operated flexibly and intuitively by experts – i.e. without any programming knowledge. Components are to be produced automatically with the desired shapes, structures and properties.

Prof. Dr. Dominik Henrich (left) and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stefan Schafföner (right) in front of the robotic cell for the production of fiber composite components.

The tool head with a finished oxide ceramic matrix composite component underneath.

"At the University of Bayreuth, we have developed a graphical playback robot programming system that has already proven itself for discrete processes, such as assembling products from individual components. We want to extend this system to continuous processes within the framework of 'FlexFiber'. Here, the fiber composite material must be sprayed onto a negative mold in an optimized robot motion with the least possible material," says Prof. Dr. Dominik Henrich, holder of the chair of Robotics and Embedded Systems at the University of Bayreuth. In the future, experts who have a detailed overview of all production steps – from the provision of raw materials to the structures and properties of the finished component – will be able to operate the robotic system intuitively. All production steps, including the control of peripheral devices, will then be automated and at the same time precisely reproducible. Experts will therefore remain indispensable in the future, but they should be able to impart their know-how directly to the robot system without having to call in a robot programmer, which always carries the risk of information loss and misinterpretation.

Unlimited variety: Fiber spraying processes can be used to produce components of very different complexity.

Prof. Dr. Dominik Henrich (left) and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stefan Schafföner (right) in front of the graphical playback robot programming interface.

The project partner at the University of Bayreuth is Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stefan Schafföner, holder of the Chair of Ceramic Materials Engineering. Here, as part of "FlexFiber", oxide ceramic matrix composites are being researched that contain reinforcing short fibers with lengths between 14 and 60 millimeters. These fairly new materials have broad application potential. They provide the necessary stability to components that must remain fully functional under very high temperatures and sudden temperature changes. "It is mostly small and medium-sized companies that manufacture such components in small batches at great expense in terms of time and money. They will be able to benefit considerably from automation of these processes, which goes hand in hand with flexible adaptation to the component properties required in each case," says Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stefan Schafföner.

The project, which is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) for three years, is an example of the currently increasing cooperation between computer science and engineering on the campus of the University of Bayreuth. If the research work is successful, a new manufacturing technology – in conjunction with an attractive, versatile material – will soon be available for high-temperature lightweight construction.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stefan Schafföner

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stefan Schafföner

Ceramic Materials Engineering
University of Bayreuth

Phone: +49 (0) 921 / 55-6500

Profilbild Prof. Dr. Dominik Henrich

Prof. Dr. Dominik Henrich

Robotics and Embedded Systems
University of Bayreuth

Phone: +49 (0)921 / 55-7680

Christian Wißler, Wissenschaftskommunikation

Christian Wißler

Deputy Press & PR Manager, Research Communication
University of Bayreuth

Phone: +49 (0)921 / 55-5356