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Laser Cutting of Fibre Reinforced Plastic Composites

Project Code: 30182


  • Identify the current state-of-the art in laser material processing of FRPs
  • Determine the quality criteria required
  • Assess the quality of laser FRP cut surfaces with respect to heat affected zone, delamination, and laser cut kerf geometries 

Project Outline

Laser cutting and drilling of fibre reinforced plastic composites (FRPs) has significant potential, given that it is a non-contact, precise, low heat-input, high-productivity process. Currently, however, laser machining of FRPs is not optimised and such processes are not commonly used by industry. One particular problem is the different absorption characteristics of the fibre and matrix constituents of FRPs. This project will develop a fundamental understanding of the interactions between the laser beam, the machining assist gas and FRP’s. This research will be performed with state-of-the-art fibre-delivered laser sources. It is expected that a key technology-enabling output of this project will be a new nozzle design and process monitoring techniques, which will enable lasers to achieve the required cut quality in FRPs and, consequently, be considered as a viable production tool.

Relevant Industry Sectors

Industry Need

Fibre reinforced plastic composites (FRPs) are increasingly being adopted as high-performance engineering materials due to their exceptional specific strength and fatigue and corrosion resistance, in comparison with metallic alternatives. The automotive and commercial aerospace industry, in particular, are leading the way in introducing FRPs, as evidenced by the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350XWB, both consisting of approximately 50% composites by weight. This level of utilisation represents a significant increase on the airframes’ predecessors and is being driven by socio-economic pressures relating to CO2 emissions and fuel efficiency.

Even though FRPs may be produced in near-net-shape form, they inevitably require cutting and drilling (ie machining) operations. Mechanical cutting methods are commonly used but these require high tool forces and there is significant tool wear. Waterjet cutting has recently been investigated but delamination effects and the need for mechanically drilled pilot holes must be overcome.

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