Thermoplastic composites are increasingly being considered for large volume applications that involve replacing incumbent materials such as metals. The Consumer Electronics space in particular, offers an interesting opportunity to capitalize on the performance of fiber-reinforced composites because of the general need to go to thinner structures while being frugal with changes in weight in applications like mobile computing and communications [1]. These applications tend to lean towards a large part build volume, typically in the range of a 100k to 1 Million parts per year. The model platform also tend to be short lived, which means there is a constant need to stay on top of what the customer’s perceived needs are and adapt accordingly with new models. This makes the designed flexibility of the manufacturing line very important. All of this creates the perfect opportunity to explore automation driven production approaches. The development challenges however for this automation driven production approach were identified to be: high speed production, with minimal scrap and minimal human intervention resulting in low conversion costs, while still maintaining a high degree of flexibility.

An end-to-end automated manufacturing line in which all steps are integrated and automated into a consolidated system, thus producing a constant production flow was developed through a partnership between Airborne and SABIC. In many cases, automation technology is developed separately from material development community, yielding sub-optimal results. Here we take a holistic view and develop the most effective technology taking into account all these aspects, in material development, automation and product design. The technology developed is also suited for high-end products in other markets, such as automotive, aerospace or sporting goods.

The ultimate goal of this line is to be fully digital and designed for minimal human intervention. It features full in-line inspection of the input material as well as the finished part. This information is processed in real time allowing online process optimization to adapt the process settings on-the-fly, based on the measured data and required output quality. Ultimately, this can deliver flexibility in order to accommodate changes that the industry demands.


[1] Malnati P., Francato G., Yaldiz R., Scott D., Stanworth A. Consumer Electronics: hybrid composite cases/covers. Composites World Magazine, August 2019.

[2] Muilwijk M., Yaldiz R., Kremers M, Verghese N., Van Zyl, A., Industrialized and digital manufacturing of Thermoplastic Composites, ITHEC, November, 2018.

About the Speaker

Nikhil is a Corporate Fellow in SABIC’s Corporate Technology and Innovation organization. He splits his time between SABIC’s Corporate/Petchem SBU and Specialties SBU and is largely responsible for their strategic Polymer related activities which includes incubating new platforms, assessing key industrial partnerships and potential acquisitions, establishing critical external university relationships, new product development and finally, championing talent management.  His contributions include, but not restricted to, the development of a new platform on Advanced Composites (includes launching the new UDMAXTM continuous fiber tape product).  He spent 3 years (2015-2018) in The Netherlands where he was responsible for setting up SABIC’s Advanced Composites Center of Excellence in Geleen as well as partnerships with FRT to produce Tapes and with Airborne in The Hague for developing a first of its kind, fully automated Composite Laminate production line for high speed production. In late 2020, he accepted the additional role of Adjunct Professor at Rice University’s department of Material Science and NanoEngineering (with Prof. Ajayan).

Nikhil completed his Ph.D. at Virginia Tech in Material Science and Engineering in 1999, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship, at Virginia Tech under the guidance of Prof. J. J. Lesko in Engineering Science and Mechanics.  Prior to joining SABIC in 2012, Nikhil’s industrial career spanned 12 years at The Dow Chemical Company (Dow) where he held various positions within Research and Development.  During his tenure at Dow, he was responsible for creating and launching FORTEGRATM, a new family of rubber toughening technologies for epoxy and epoxy vinylester based thermoset resins. In 2009, as Global Technology Leader, he initiated a new platform in Thermoset Composites that in 2011 resulted in the launch of VORAFORCETM, a family of Epoxy and Polyurethane formulated systems, designed to address the fabrication needs of technologies such as Ultra-Fast RTM (resin transfer molding), Filament Winding, Pultrusion and SRIM (structural reaction injection molding).

Nikhil’s publications include chapters in 4 books and over 124 peer reviewed journal papers and conference proceedings. He holds 46 filed and granted patents. Nikhil served as Chairman of the ‘Failure Analysis and Prevention Special Interest Group’ at SPE-ANTEC in 2002 and co-chaired the ‘Bonding, Joining and Finishing of Composites’ division of SPE-ACCE in 2008. In 2009, he was elected to the board for SPE’s Composites Division and was its Technical Program Chair at ANTEC in 2012 & `13. In 2014, he was elected to the Board of Directors of the PTIC (Polymer Consortium) at Texas A&M and in 2020, he was elected to the Industrial Advisory Board of the Macromolecules Innovation Institute (MII) at Virginia Tech.  He has been an invited speaker at various venues including Deformation, Yield and Fracture of Polymers (DYFP) Netherlands, SAMPE India, Rolduc Polymer Conference, APS, ACS and ACMA.

By Dr. Nikhil Verghese

  • Corporate Fellow, SABIC, USA
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