Automated fibre placement (AFP)Automated tape laying (ATL).
Additive manufacture (AM) and rapid prototyping (RP) for fibre-reinforced composites.

Automated fibre placement (AFP) [1, 2]

Fibre placement is a process in which a multi-axis robot is used to wet-wind yarn or roving around a series of pins (or similar restraints within a mould) in a predetermined pattern.  The name fibre placement is often taken to include filament winding.  The restraints around which the fibres are wound permit the construction of parts without the limitations of geodesic paths.  The process has been used to produce Geoform (filament wound lattice-work towers where mandrel coverage is only in specific bands) and has potential for automotive space frames.  The process is perhaps more applicable to thermoplastic matrix composites where on-line consolidation and cooling permit its use without the requirement for the fibre restraints.  Video with fibre placement at 2'08-2'30.

Automated fibre placement (AFP) normally uses (thermoplastic or thermoset) pre-impregnated tows (towpreg) to build up a component against a mould or mandrel surface (not around pins, but relying on the tackiness of the towpreg).  The narrow tows allow more complex parts to be manufactured than when using automated tape layin, with increasing interest in tow steering [3-5].

Sacco et al [6] present a comprehensive overview of machine learning (ML) applications in composites manufacturing, with discussion of novel vision inspection software developed for the Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) process.  Defect data integrated into the manufacturing process allows the inspection system to "influence several chains in the composites product lifecycle management".

German company Festo studies nature to inform innovation (biomimetics). Their 3D Cocooner [7-9], which was launched at the Hannover Fair in April 2016, uses a tripod robot to deliver (spin) 2400 tex glass fibre roving coated with UV-curing resin and position the strands into a free-standing 3D lattice structure. The current system extrudes material at 10 mm/s into a volume of 450 x 300 x 600 mm.  Video


  1. BT Åström, Manufacturing of Polymer Composites, Chapman and Hall, London, 1997, pp 262/292.  ISBN 0-412-81960-0.
  2. DO Evans, Fiber Placement, In DB Miracle and SL Donaldson (editors), ASM Handbook Volume 21: Composites, 
    ASM International, 2001, pp 477-479.  ISBN 0-87170-703-9. (PDF file is 247 KB).  PU CSH Library.
  3. J Sloan, AFP tow steering comes of age, Part 1: Current state, CompositesWorld, December 2020, 6(12), 24-26.
  4. J Sloan, Tow steering, Part 2: The next generation, CompositesWorld, February221, 7(2), 26-32.
  5. J Sloan, Tow steering, Part 3: The birth of tow shearing, CompositesWorld, march 2021, 7(3), 28-29.
  6. C Sacco, AB Radwan, A Anderson, R Harik and E Gregory, Machine learning in composites manufacturing: a case study of Automated Fiber Placement inspection, Composite Structures, 15 October 2020, 250, 112514.
  7. 3D Cocooner: bionic lattice structures from the robotic spinneret, Festo, accessed 18 May 2016.
  8. BB Millsaps, 3D Cocooner spins complex structures out of fibreglass resin,, 08 April 2016.
  9. P Ridden, Cocooning caterpillars inspire new 3D printer design,, 08 April 2016.

Automated tape laying (ATL) [1-3]

Tape laying is a computer-numerically controlled (CNC) technique similar to automated fibre placement with the obvious difference that (prepreg) reinforcement tapes are laid.  The fibre delivery system usually employs a Cartesian framework for gross positioning (rather than a primarily rotational axis robot) with rotational freedoms close to the work-piece.  It may be used for thermoset or thermoplastic matrix composites but is usually limited to flat or low curvature surfaces.  It is often associated with high quality aerospace composites such as flight control surfaces and wing skins.


  1. BT Åström, Manufacturing of Polymer Composites, Chapman and Hall, London, 1997, pp 211-212.  ISBN 0-412-81960-0.
  2. Michael N. Grimshaw, Automated Tape Laying, In DB Miracle and SL Donaldson (editors), 
    ASM Handbook Volume 21: Composites, ASM International, 2001, pp 480-485.  ISBN 0-87170-703-9.  (PDF file is 1.1 MB).PU CSH Library.
  3. MN Grimshaw, CG Grant and JM Luna Diaz, Advanced technology tape laying for affordable manufacturing of large composite structures (PDF file is 2 MB), no date.

Additive manufacture (AM) and rapid prototyping (RP) for fibre-reinforced composites

These technologies can be classified by scale into four categories: consumer < desktop < professional < production.  Rapid prototyping (RP) in currently used to indiacte products which last only a few days (e.g. for ergonomic assessment of a design).  Additive manufacture is used for items sold as durable products.  The ASTM Sub-Committee F42.91 published ASTM F2792-12a "Standard Terminology for Additive Manufacturing Technologies" which was withdrawn and replaced by BS ISO/ASTM 52900:2015  Additive manufacturing. General principles. Terminology.  The ASTM Standard defined seven distinct Additive Manufacturing (AM) technologies for materials in general (not necessarily composites) as listed in Table 1.

Table 1:  The seven distinct additive manufacture (AM) technologies
Process Examples
vat photopolymerisation stereo lithography (SL), digital light projection (DLP)
sheet lamination laminated object manufacturing (LOM), ultrasonic consolidation (UC) of metal foils
material extrusion fused deposition modelling (FDM)
material jetting similar to ink-jet printing
binder jetting HP multi-jet fusion with heat
directed energy deposition (DED) electron beam, laser or plasma arc
powder bed fusion laser or electron beam melting

Researchers at MIT (USA) in collaboration with Carbitex (UK) have 3D printed morphing carbon fibre composites that fold, curl, twist and respond to a variety of stimuli (e.g. heat, light or moisture) [1, 2].  Video.

CRP Technology used selective laser sintering process to print the Windform SP ski-boot using carbon fibres in polyamide [3]

The US Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) used 3D printing technology to make a carbon fibre reinforced plastics Shelby Cobra replica using the Cincinnati Incorporated/ORNL Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine.  The replica took six weeks to design, manufacture and assemble including 24 hours of print time.  A smaller print-bead, and subsequent work by TruDesign (Knoxville), produced a Class A automotive finish on the completed vehicle [4].

The Shelby Cobra replica (images from (left)
and (right)).

The MarkForged desktop 3D composite printer uses two print heads to separately deliver either continuous aramid/carbon/glass fibre towpreg or a polyamide (PA)/polylactide (PLA) matrix for Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) and Composite Filament Fabrication (CFF) and build up 200 μm layers.  The first printer in the UK was installed at the University of Derby Institute for Innovation in Sustainable Engineering (IISE) [5-7].  Video.

The MarkForged desktop 3D printer
(image from

Orbital Composites have introduced a coaxial extruder toolhead which can coat continuous carbon fiber (and materials such as plastic, wire, solder, epoxies, pastes, etc.) before delivery for part manufacture [8].

Two North American universities [9] have developed a hybrid “4-D printed” composite material by embedding light-responsive fibers coated with spirobenzopyran (SP) chromophores (color-sensitive molecules) into a temperature-sensitive gel. They claim the composite can be reconfigured multiple times, bending one way when exposed to light and the other way when exposed to heat, and that they designed “a single composite that creates access to a range of dynamic responses and structures”.

The University of Bristol [10, 11] have developed 3D printing of composite materials using ultrasonic standing waves to position microscopic glass fibres with a focussed laser beam to cure the epoxy matrix component.

The US Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has produced a 3D printed trim-and-drill tool in carbon fibre/ABS which is over 5.3 x 1.67 x 0.45 m (L x W x H).  The tool was printed in 30 h whereas the metallic equivalent would typically take 3 months to manufacture [12].

Hoa [13] has proposed 4D printing where the process combines 3D printing of a flat form that can be activated to change shape after manufacture to deform into a “curved” or “S” shape.  The 3D printing process can then be faster.  The materials used are long fiber composite materials where shrinkage of the matrix resin, and/or coefficients of thermal contraction which differ with layer orientation lead to shape change upon curing and cooling.


  1. J Shury, Researchers create programmable carbon fibre, Composites Today, 15 October 2014, accessed 03 November 2015.
  2. C Tesla, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carbitex have made progress in making 4D printing a reality with programmable carbon fiber, Tumotech, 29 October 2014, accessed 03 November 2015.
  3. J Shury, Inventor Wins Award for His 3D Printed Carbon Fibre Ski Boots, Composites Today, 24 February 2015, accessed 03 November 2015.
  4. J Shury, Researchers printed this Shelby Cobra replica using carbon fibre, Composites Today, 16 June 2015, accessed 03 November 2015.
  5. J Shury, Join Us in Derby for the Launch of the MarkForged 3D Composites Printer, Composites Today, 18 June 2015, accessed 03 November 2015.
  6. S Black, 3D Printing of continuous carbon fiber composites?, High-Performance Composites, May 2014, 22(3), 44-47.
  7. Anon., New Carbon Fibre 3D Printing Technology, accessed 03 November 2015.
  8. E Krassenstein, Orbital Composites to make 3D printing 100 times faster using carbon fiber, fiber optics, injection and more, 3D Print, 28 April 2015, accessed 03 November 2015.
  9. E Milberg New 4-D printed composite material could lead to flexible robots, Composites Manufacturing, 21 December 2015.
  10. TM Llewellyn-Jones, BW Drinkwater and RS Trask, 3-D printed components with ultrasonically arranged microscale structure, Smart Materials and Structures, 2016, 25(2), 6 pp.
  11. It's a 3D printer, but not as we know it, University of Bristol, 18 January 2016, accessed 19 January 2016.
  12. World record for 3D printed composite part, Reinforced Plastics/Materials Today online, 9 September 2016.
  13. SV Hoa, Factors affecting the properties of composites made by 4D printing (moldless composites manufacturing), Advanced Manufacturing: Polymer and Composites Science, 2017, 3(3), 101-109.

Strategic reports

Additional resources

Created by John Summerscales on 03 November 2015 (with AFP and ATL taken out of the filament winding page) and updated on 21-May-2021 15:28. Terms and conditions. Errors and omissions. Corrections.