To complement existing resin flow control strategies currently under development for Vacuum-Assisted Resin Transfer Molding (VARTM), and to provide the ability to react to unexpected changes in resin behavior during injection, a new technique for resin flow manipulation has been investigated. This approach consists of a semi-cylindrical shaped vacuum chamber placed on a mold which, when evacuated, increases the permeability of the region under the chamber by lifting the bag atop the mold. A finite element model has been developed to predict the resin flow within the mold while using the external chamber. Laboratory testing has shown significant modification in resin flow with reduced injection time. Using the external chamber, a robotic system has been prototyped that identifies dry regions forming during injection via computer vision, deploys the vacuum chamber over the mold with a robotic arm, and actuates the chamber in order to modify and correct the resin flow within the mold. Test results using lab-scale molds with large variations in preform permeabilities indicate that the robotic system can correct and/or modify the resin flow within a mold in real time, thus eliminating dry, unimpregnated regions. This computer-based method has the potential to significantly enhance molded part quality and consistency by eliminating resin starved regions within a molded composite part.

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