A quickstep into spaceage materials

April 22, 2001

A groundbreaking Australian technique looks set to revolutionise the aerospace, boat and car building industries by making advanced polymer composite technology affordable.

Advanced polymer composites are extremely strong and light - around 10 times the strength to weight ratio of most metals. These are highly desirable qualities, but until now have been out of reach of most manufacturers, according to Australia's national science agency, CSIRO.

"Stealth fighter aircraft and very expensive racing cars are made out of these materials. But the problem with this technology has been that these materials are expensive and time consuming to manufacture, requiring high temperatures in a high pressure apparatus for up to 16 hrs for each part," CSIRO researcher, Dr Jonathan Hodgkin says.

"These disadvantages of time and cost meant that only the aerospace or racing car industries could afford the technology," he says.

The new Australian process, called Quickstep, looks set to change that.

Dr Hodgkin, says that the Quickstep process is a fast fabrication method for making very high quality (to aerospace standard) composite products without using an autoclave.

Quickstep is one of the Australian technologies that will be on show at the Hannover Fair in Germany from April 23 - 28, 2001.

The technique takes advantage of the thermal conductivity of fluids such as water to reduce the production time from 24 hours to about 1hour for aerospace standard epoxy resins with even shorter production times for AAA grade automotive and marine composites. In addition the apparatus required is very low cost compared to conventional equipment.

The process was invented and patented by Neil Graham of Perth, Western Australia to meet a need to make aerospace parts in volume and quickly without the prohibitive costs associated with autoclave ovens and tooling.

"Quickstep uses a unique, fluid filled, balanced pressure, floating mould technique, combined with vibration through the fluids to produce advanced fibre and glass reinforced composite components," says Mr Graham.

"The process has superior performance to autoclave, vacuum and atmospheric curing methods in terms of strength, stiffness and appearance."

Quickstep achieves this superior performance on larger parts with faster cycle times, at far lower pressures of 1 to 4 psi compared to autoclaves which operate at 60 to 200 psi and at lower labour costs than alternative aerospace grade production systems.

Mr Graham says that the surrounding fluid system means that the mould and the part being fabricated are supported by fluid and are not subjected to high pressure.

"Consequently, the mould doesn't need to be of heavy construction. In addition, sandwich structures with honeycomb or foam cores are made feasible."

A number of different polymer-fibre systems have been tested by the CSIRO researchers, including epoxy/carbon fibre and vinyl ester/fibre glass. In each case, the resulting composites had very high fibre levels, often over 70 percent, with little porosity and were deemed to be of good aerospace quality.

"The process has a number of advantages over current systems for composite fabrication such as autoclave cure," says Dr Hodgkin.

"It is faster and cheaper and can use low cost moulds, even with large complex parts. It would be possible, for instance to produce a fuselage or boat hull in a single process," he says.

"We can control the temperature of the fluid, which means we have greater precision in the curing process."

CSIRO has undertaken trials on the Quickstep process since early 1998. They are now working with Quickstep Technologies to develop this revolutionary process. A high temperature oil based plant is due for completion in late April 2001 to supplement the water based pilot plant which has been demonstrating the process since 1994.

In addition to working with two aerospace companies, Quickstep Technologies and CSIRO will invite members of the automotive and marine industries to participate in the development of the process to meet their specific needs.

"Because we can fabricate high quality foam-core composite, the technology is ideally suited to the boating industry. And lightweight honeycomb components find many applications in the auto industry," Dr Hodgkin says.

Mr Graham says that the environment will also benefit from the technology.

"This process will reduce excessive energy in the manufacturing process, and because it will produce lighter vehicles, it will lead to fuel savings."
-end-


CSIRO Australia

Related Polymer Articles from Brightsurf:

Impurities enhance polymer LED efficiencies
New research published in EPJ B reveals that the higher-than-expected efficiency of PLEDs can be reached through interactions between triplet excitons, and impurities embedded in their polymer layers.

Safety of bioabsorbable polymer against durable polymer DES in high-risk PCI patients
A novel study sought to reveal whether drug-eluting stents (DES) coated with bioabsorbable polymer (BP) presented a safety advantage without compromising efficacy compared to durable polymer (DP) formulations.

Polymer membranes could benefit from taking a dip
A new technique developed by a team including researchers from the US Department of Energy (DOE)'s Argonne National Laboratory makes atomic layer deposition possible on nearly any membrane.

New polymer material may help batteries become self-healing, recyclable
Lithium-ion batteries are notorious for developing internal electrical shorts that can ignite a battery's liquid electrolytes, leading to explosions and fires.

Researchers add order to polymer gels
Gel-like materials have a wide range of applications, especially in chemistry and medicine.

Bundlemers (new polymer units) could transform industries
From tires to clothes to shampoo, many ubiquitous products are made with polymers, large chain-like molecules made of smaller sub-units, called monomers, bonded together.

New synthetic polymer degradable under very mild acidic conditions
A new type of degradable synthetic polymer was prepared by Rh-catalyzed three-component polymerization of a bis(diazocarbonyl) compound, bis(1,3-diketone), and tetrahydrofuran.

New polymer tackles PFAS pollution
toxic polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) pollution -- commonly used in non-stick and protective coatings, lubricants and aviation fire-fighting foams -- can now be removed from the environment thanks to a new low-cost, safe and environmentally friendly polymer.

New polymer films conduct heat instead of trapping it
MIT engineers have flipped the picture of the standard polymer insulator, by fabricating thin polymer films that conduct heat -- an ability normally associated with metals.

Polymer reversibly glows white when stretched
Polymers that change their appearance in response to mechanical forces can warn of damage developing in a material before the stress causes structural failure.

Read More: Polymer News and Polymer Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.