Engineering

If you like to reinvent the wheel – let it be composite

Modern trends and demand for deeper customization of industrial products stimulate the use of new materials with better characteristics. In this regard, composites that can replace metal in a number of industries, of course, have the broadest prospects. Russian companies engaged in the production of carbon fiber or products made of composite materials receive a profit increase of several hundred percent annually. Much of this success is due to the relatively free domestic market, as well as new technologies and ways of interaction. One of such ways of interaction is the composite ecosystem in Russian Investments Group. According to Kirill Ignatyev, Chairman of “Russian Investments`” Board of Directors, digital technologies allowed to sew together the design project, development and mass production of composite products. Nevertheless, the heart of the ecosystem is the engineering company KB “Arhipov" and its founder Vasily Arhipov — one of the leading engineers and material scientists specializing in composite materials. In an interview with Intelligent Manufacturing Journal Kiril Ignatyev and Vasily Arhipov told about their business and shared their opinion about the prospects for composites in Russia.
13 september 2019
Author:

- Kirill, Vasily, first let's explain to our readers what is the cooperation between KB “Arhipov” and GC " Russian investments "and how they are going to participate in joint projects with GC "Solver".

Kirill Ignatyev:

"Russian investments" is a whole ecosystem, which includes companies of different specialization - from composites to IT and commercial real estate. In the field of composites we have three independent companies. KB “Arhipov” is engaged in engineering and prototyping. "Composite Ivanovo manufactory" – a platform for serial production of composite products. Industrial Design Bureau "Mashtab" creates the image of innovative products. Solver group is an example for us in the field of engineering. An example of how business processes are organized. Russian investments and Solver are starting full-scale cooperation in the framework of a number of orders for large state corporations. Our companies are on the same mental level of understanding of the modern market. Today, the trend of replacing classical materials with composites is gaining strength, the industry comes to the understanding that new materials will significantly increase the quality characteristics of products, in some cases, reduce the cost.

Vasily Arhipov:

Kirill Ignatyev is my business partner. "Russian investments" - a kind of factory projects for which KB “Arhipov” is the contracting company. We currently have two joint projects with Solver. The first is related to the introduction of breakthrough technology, absolutely unique know-how. I was asked to make an expert assessment of a startup that wants to become a part of Solver. If we combine our development and the development of this startup, the output we get a breakthrough technology associated with the replacement of cast aluminum parts on exactly the same, only made of polymer. By physical and mechanical characteristics of polymer products will surpass aluminum parts, and their weight will decrease. The technology is applicable not only in mechanical engineering, but also in medicine and other fields. Products will be printed on injection molding machines, and we will be able to set the material properties inherent in continuous fibers.

The second project is aimed more at upgrading the existing product for the aviation industry. In short, we are going to replace the metal with carbon fiber. Replacing the material in this case will reduce the cost of the product itself, as well as the technological process, will make it easier. We will conduct all researching and developing works and then set up mass production.

- What is the key advantage of composites over other materials? Is it possible that the cost of composites is lower than that of metals?

Kirill Ignatyev:

Unlike the classic five materials (wood, stone / concrete, metal, glass, plastics), whose properties are known to us and we have to start from them, composites allow you to set the properties of the final product at the design stage. From approximately the same composition of materials can be obtained ultralight, heavy-duty or x-ray products. Within 25 years, composites will supplant classic materials in many markets. I would not be surprised if metallurgists will soon disappear from the Forbes list. Because the metal market will be greatly reduced, losing its position to carbon fiber and other materials.

Vasily Arhipov:

The concepts of "more expensive", "cheaper" in the current technological way are not related to materials. Aluminum hood for a car in a single copy will cost if not a million dollars, but very close to this figure, because it is necessary to develop and make stamps with complex topology, take into account all the physical and mechanical properties of aluminum. To make the price of such products acceptable, it should be done for mass production. What if we are faced with the task of making 200 hoods for cars? Why aviation is an expensive industry? It is largely based on aluminum and small-scale production. If the volume of aircraft production is comparable to the automotive industry, they would cost not much more expensive than cars. Composites in this case help to make small series for relatively little money. In this case, carbon parts in their physical and mechanical properties are superior to metal products. However, a carbon component with a circulation of more than 10,000 pieces will be more expensive than an aluminum analog with the same series.

- It seems that composite materials are ideal for small-scale production?

Vasily Arhipov:

Even for medium-scale production. Although there are examples of mass production of carbon products, for example, in the factories of BMW. The German carmaker can afford to make carbon from continuous fiber. SMC technology is also suitable for mass production.

Kirill Ignatyev:

In all commercial production facilities where anything is manufactured in small batches, composites have already surpassed most equivalent materials at cost. Composites became cheaper than aluminum and wood and approached the price of plastic. This is a real revolution that has occurred in the XXI century. If earlier large companies invested in expensive equipment and the threshold for the start of the production of composite products began from several million euro, now modern technologies for the production of composites are much simpler and no longer need expensive autoclaves. To obtain high-quality products from composites enough equipment worth several million rubles. In fact, composites have become available for small and medium-sized businesses. In order to produce the forms of future composite products, a standard CNC milling machine and a medium density fiberboard as a material are sufficient. Production of even a single part of the composite will be cost-effective, especially in the framework of customization.

- In case of a metal we should adjust to its properties, in the case of composite materials, the properties are set by technologists?

Vasily Arhipov:

With composites to some extent we go down to the level of engineering below, to a more detailed consideration. For example, we counted lengths in centimeters and then moved to millimeters. While working with traditional materials, you have to limit their physical and mechanical properties, in composites these properties can be set and" programmed" in a wide range. But in any case, you should start with the study of the shape of the product and only then pay attention to the anisotropy and the properties of materials in general.

- Could you evaluate the prospects of composites in terms of further development of the industry in the direction of smart industries and plants of the future. In what industries can composites replace metal today?

Vasily Arhipov:

I have not yet defined the term "plants of the future" for myself exactly. In fact, the global transition to composites has already begun. For example, in the same automotive industry. BMW uses smart manufacturing to create composite parts. The growth of the global composites market is approximately 20% per year.

Kirill Ignatyev:

Let me start with a specific example – next year in our ecosystem is planned to release to the market of urban bike made of carbon fiber, it will be cheaper and lighter than the aluminum counterpart. Composites began their way in the industry not with mass, but with individual technologies, so the development of composite production is exactly the same as once in the XIX-XX centuries was the evolution of metal technologies in the industry. The workshops appeared first, then factory and mass production. Then there was the composite production. Composites are now going the same way.

The plant of the future is a kind of modern realization of the dream from the film about the Jinn, when a boy asks the Jinn "I want something", the Jinn answers" I obey" and the boy has the object of his desires. Actually, the plant of the future is a set of technologies built on a highly automated basis, where a customer orders a product via the Internet and soon receives it. All logistics, going from the order to the receipt of the finished product, includes processing and analysis, including with the help of artificial intelligence. This is the concept of plants of the future. And then begins the fork in three forms. Mass production, of course, will remain, but not in the volumes as it is now, but in much smaller volumes – based on the needs of a particular client. Today, the largest automobile plants produce a turnkey car, tomorrow their production will be reduced only to the chassis and power units, the remaining elements of customization, including composite, will go to small businesses. The current configurator on the websites of automobile concerns offers to choose a car from 20-30 options, in the future the variability will increase to several hundred cars. With a customized production model, 3D printers printing with composite materials will also become cost-effective. 3D printing has not yet reached the level of mass work with composite materials, but I think that at the junction of additive technologies and composites, a more advanced technology will be born that can become the basis for medium-scale production. And finally, completely individual production, absolutely deep custom in the amount of one or two pieces of products, which was the lot of the workshops. In this sense, manual labor will remain, but digital technology will make it more structured and manageable. In fact, this model is already being implemented in KB Arhipov and Ivanovo Composite Manufactory.

- It turns out a kind of high-tech handmade?

Kirill Ignatyev:

Composites will crowd out other materials and increase their share in the master handmade, which will also be sold through digital platforms. ‘KB Arhipov’ before the emergence of ‘Ivanovo composite manufactory’ made a lot of individual high-tech things, for example, cups Formula 1 in Sochi, part of the precision mirror for the space telescope "Millimetron".

- How do you assess the chances of domestic compositors to gain and retain positions in foreign markets?

Kirill Ignatyev:

I had the opportunity to visit several composite production facilities in Italy, built in the 1990s, when composites were first used in industry. Investments in composites in those days were very large and such productions with technologies of the end of the last century in Europe very much. There is no hurry to switch to new technologies, because recently expensive equipment passed the payback horizon and began to make a profit. Russia, due to a certain technological lag in the 1990s and the shortage of such industries, has a chance to create a composite industry on a fundamentally new technological basis. In addition, the production of new composite materials is being formed in our country. 70% of carbon fiber and yarn used in Russian production is purchased in the domestic market. Five years ago, such figures seemed to be fantastic. Analyzing the export potential of domestic compositors, it is worth saying that we have one undeniable advantage over foreign competitors – cheaper labor. An absolute plus can be considered the most modern equipment that appears now in Russia, the cost of products produced on it is lower than in Europe. As a product, we are not inferior to the Europeans and confidently approaching the US and Japan. Therefore, the most preferred market in terms of exports today is Europe. "Russian investments" is considering the option of creating a composite production that will use industrial design and engineering of our ecosystem and the group of companies "Solver".

Vasily Arhipov:

Our solutions are more than in demand today. Russian carbon fiber manufacturers are competitive, at least in the domestic market. Professional community is gradually developing in Russia. A very interesting picture is emerging in the micro- and small business sector. At the same time, the boundaries of the market have not yet been determined, it is absolutely free, demand exceeds supply at times, and as there is no competition here, but partnership is developed.

- Tell us about the process of creating a prototype or a finished product from composites in KB Arhipov. How does your work model differ from that of other participants of the Russian market, as well as foreign companies?

Vasily Arhipov:

There are two different worlds: engineering and mass production. European production is based on the technology of prepreg formation in autoclaves. In Russia, few people have such technology, which seems to confirm our lag in this direction. At the same time, we have the opportunity to have a certain model of interaction within the Russian market, I mean a distributed production system: with low costs and minimal input requirements. In engineering, all decisions are focused on "how to do better." All kinds of operations with carbon fiber, both in Russia and abroad in General are very similar. At the same time, KB Arhipov has its own specific principles of work.

- Does KB Arhipov has any experience in export?

Vasily Arhipov:

We have never made orders for foreign customers. But now we are negotiating with a Mexican company. Also, all new products of "Russian investments" are developed for saling in the world market.

- Vasily, you have divided 2019 into a number of projects worth several tens of millions of rubles each. At the same time, KB Arhipov does not work with conventional simple solutions, but wants to give something fundamentally new to the industry as a whole.

Vasily Arhipov:

There are lots of orders, but if they do not have a specific call, then this order is transferred to our partners in the community. What is the engineering challenge? For example, the thing is that no one can do that, while we can. Recently, the impeller for one company was made by carbon plastic, where experts ran into technological barrier. We take projects that do not just bring good money, but are a puzzle for us. The employees of "KB Arhipov" have accumulated a lot of experience in solving complex problems, we often made mistakes and because of this, we are well versed in materials in general and polymers in particular. Not at the level of knowledge of tables and reference books, but at the level of categories of material behavior, its physical and mechanical properties. Each compositor must imagine in his head the physical and chemical processes: how to behave this or that resin at a particular temperature, how to increase its strength. There must be an understanding of the anisotropy of the layer, because the composite always works along the fiber, tensile, and compression works only binder. The ability to predict how polymers and thermoplastics will behave in a given situation is very important for our work. Production technology is another stumbling block. Many startups or promising researches in our country begin and end immediately because of the shortage of technologists. There are no people capable to prompt this or that technological process according to which we will receive this or that economy and final result. "KB Arhipov" has repeatedly confirmed this conclusion. With the same components: hands, head, materials, equipment, but different methodology, the final results are different.

- It turns out that empirical experience prevails over theoretical knowledge?

Vasily Arhipov:

In our country, even specialized Universities provide very weak theoretical knowledge. So while in the hands not hold the teeth, you try, you will not understand what is a material.

- How many companies are now a part of the Russian composite community?

Vasily Arhipov:

There are about 50 business-oriented manufacturing companies, of which 30 are quite well-known. All the others, as a rule, make one niche product from carbon fiber. Two companies are now studying engineering, we are actively helping them. In Russia there are quite strong companies specializing in industrial design.

- What materials do you use to create prototypes and prototypes?

Vasily Arhipov:

When talking about carbon fabric, we are trying to use the material of the Russian company UMAREX. Toray fiber is suitable for complex specific tasks. There have been cases, for example, the space Observatory Millimetron when we applied fiber М55Ј. Generally there is a desire to work only on the Russian composites. In terms of import substitution with carbon fiber is more than good. The matrix and resins are still largely imported, but for easy tasks Russian resin is also suitable.

- What is the difficulty in terms of import substitution matrix? Are the resins so specific that they're hard to make?

Vasily Arhipov:

The whole hitch is in the physical and mechanical properties of the polymer composite matrix. Russian resin has good physical properties, but its polymerization cycle is quite long. The faster the resin polymerizes, the worse physical properties, for a beautiful exhibition product is suitable, but for the loaded parts-no. The balance between good physical and mechanical properties, time and temperature of polymerization is very important. What are resin`s fluidity, strength, etc. These are the options, based on which properties of the future product are largely "programmed". The deficit of Russian matrices on the one hand can be considered a problem, but on the other hand – one of the promising points of growth.

"Ivanovo composite manufactory – - the main production site for "KB Arkhipov"? The interaction between composite ecosystems within GK "Russian investments"?

Vasily Arhipov:

KB Arhipov has its own R & D center in Moscow, where we are engaged in the development, engineering and physical production of the first product. We create prototypes for the Ivanovo factory, which then launches mass production of a product. We interact every day.

Kirill Ignatyev:

In the group "Russian investments" every business makes independent decisions, including regarding customers. More recently, "Ivanovo Composite Manufactory" fulfilled the order of another engineering company. Therefore, between "KB Arhipov" and "Ivanovo Composite Manufacture" a full commercial relationship has appeared. These are two different units, although "KB Arhipov" should be considered the heart of the composite ecosystem.  At some point, we realized that the possibilities of pilot production at KB Arhipov, where engineering and single production are carried out, are too small. In the market there was an increased demand for the production of hundreds and even thousands of products. The factory in Ivanovo was created just for medium-scale production.  But the most important achievement is that the specialists of "KB Arhipov" have developed their own program of composite production, complementing the software of Siemens and SAP. This process cell program can be applied in industries of all sizes. Software is replicated on the size of production and it can be digitized including manual labor management, which, in fact, has already been successfully worked out in the shop "KB Arhipov".

- How to bring a new high-tech service or product to the market? What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs, should they seek support, including from venture funds?

Vasily Arhipov:

Desire to run business for business's sake won't work. First of all you must like what you do. I have been a fan of my work all my adult life, and now, after 18 years, I want to work even more, because I already know how to do a lot of things. Business is, first of all, a well-built system, which requires time and experience to build. If you think why not to run business manufacturing carbon fiber furniture, let me learn, any book will do me a professional – this will not work, too many variables. You need to understand what the market is, the client, the culture of the company must be developed. But again most important - love to his trial. All the guys from our community get great pleasure, and there is not a single person dissatisfied with the work with carbon fiber. Sometimes something cannot work, in any case, you cannot give up. The more mistakes and obstacles on the way, the more professional and smarter you will become. At some point you cross this line, the first money appears, and you begin to ask questions of business. It should be understood that the venture model of investing in startups does not work in full, because Russia has a low supply on the market and there are almost no companies that spin off startups. Formal requirements of venture investors should land in the Russian realities. And perhaps the key flaw of venture capital funds is that they are fixated on the product, not the service. When venture funds begin to invest in the service business model that is now spreading, and which is experiencing a lack of investment, only then will venture funds have a result comparable to a global project. Service business is a tool to reproduce product startups, because many of them die at the prototype stage. It turns out a vicious circle: the prototype needs money and means of production, the money from the Fund, the Fund requires to give the product, and the product without a prototype cannot be done.

- Vasily, you have been working in the composite materials industry for about 20 years, how long does it take to become a professional and make a minimum of mistakes?

Vasily Arhipov:

We made mistakes yesterday and this morning. At first it was not possible to glue the composite correctly, and 10 years later you made a mistake in signing a document. As corny as it may sound, mistakes are your experience, stumbling for the first or second times, you will not repeat it again. Our wealth is not measured in millions of dollars, but in millions of mistakes.