Composites 4.0 is the implementation of Industry 4.0 concepts to plastics and composites manufacturing with the goal to overcome the complexities associated with these materials. Due to very complex process-structure-property relationships associated with plastics and composites, a wide range of process parameters need to be tracked and monitored. Furthermore, these parameters are often affected by the tool and machinery, human intervention, and variability. They should thus, be monitored by integrating intelligence and connectivity in manufacturing systems. Retrofitting of legacy manufacturing systems with modern sensing and control systems is emerging as a cost-effective approach as it circumvents the substantial investments needed to replace legacy equipment with expensive modern systems to enhance productivity.

The goal of the following study is to contribute to these retrofitting efforts by identifying the gap in the current state-of-the-art research, and the implementation level of Composites 4.0 capabilities in plastics and composites manufacturing. The study was conducted in two phases, first, a detailed review of the current state-of-the-art for Industry 4.0 in the manufacturing domain was conducted to understand the level of integration possible. It also helped gain insights into formulating the right questions for the composites manufacturing industry in South Carolina. Second, a survey of the plastics and composites manufacturing industries was performed based on these questions, which helped identify the needs of the industry and the gap in the implementation of Composites 4.0. The study focuses on three major composite manufacturing industries: injection molding, extrusion, and 3D printing of thermoplastic materials.

Through the survey, it was possible to identify areas and desired functionalities being targeted by the surveyed industries and concentrate research efforts to develop targeted solutions. After analyzing the survey responses, it was found that updating old protocols using manufacturer support and customized integration of cost-effective solutions like retrofit kits, edge gateways, and smart sensors were the best-suited solutions to modernize the equipment. Composites 4.0 is already being implemented for Preventive Maintenance (PM), Manufacturing Execution System (MES), and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to some extent, and the focus is on process optimization and equipment downtime reduction. The inferences drawn from this study are being used to develop highly targeted, supplier-agnostic solutions to modernize legacy manufacturing assets.

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