Plastic components from the microwave

Oct 20, 2006
Plastic components from the microwave
Fiber-reinforced plastic components have been used on ships for a long time. A new curing process will facilitate their production in future. © Elan

Manufacturing fiber-reinforced plastic components for ships, facades of buildings and wind power plants is a technically difficult process. Researchers are now developing a new, environment-friendly process that enables the curing process to be accurately controlled.

The shipbuilding, construction and wind power plant industries all require large components made of fiber-reinforced plastics. To produce them, the plastic is either poured into molds or applied manually layer by layer. Both methods have their pitfalls. If the casting mold is not completely filled, the component has to be discarded. The manual lamination process releases styrene, a volatile hydrocarbon that is harmful to health.

To complicate matters still further, the polyester resins mixed with the hardener and a catalyst will set at different rates depending on the ambient temperature. “The variable outside temperature during production has so far always made it impossible for us to reproduce the chemical process with any degree of accuracy,” states Dr. Rudolf Emmerich, project manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology ICT in Pfinztal.

Under his leadership, a team of research institutes and companies from Germany, Slovenia and Spain is about to revolutionize the production of large-scale fiber-reinforced plastic components. The European Union is investing one million euros, or roughly 50 percent of the cost, in the research project. Its goal is to achieve improved working conditions, lower pollution and higher quality.

The polyester resin mixture will in future be of low viscosity – so liquid, that is, that it will not set at normal ambient temperatures. Using this resin, the fibers – glass fiber or foam fabric – can be embedded properly while still leaving enough time to make adjustments. Not until the constituents are correctly positioned in the mold is the component finally cured – using microwaves.

The crucial factor is “that we heat up and thus cure the components uniformly, regardless of their geometry,” says Rudolf Emmerich, explaining the challenge facing the ICT researchers. Movable antennas will transmit the microwaves and distribute the energy as required. The technical structure, the intensity of the microwave radiation and the new chemical composition of the polyester resins have already been specified. The method is now being adapted for industrial-scale applications. A prototype plant has already been completed.

Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

Explore further: Lifting the brakes on fuel efficiency

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Glasses strong as steel: A fast way to find the best

Apr 13, 2014

Scientists at Yale University have devised a dramatically faster way of identifying and characterizing complex alloys known as bulk metallic glasses (BMGs), a versatile type of pliable glass that's stronger than steel.

New self-healing plastics developed

Apr 11, 2014

Scratches in the car finish or cracks in polymer material: Self-healing materials can repair themselves by restoring their initial molecular structure after the damage. Scientists of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology ...

Filter helps recover 80% of gold in mobile phone scrap

Apr 10, 2014

Mobile phone scrap can contain precious metals, such as gold and copper. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a biological filter made of mushroom mycelium mats enabling recovery of as much ...

A new twist makes for better steel

Apr 08, 2014

In steelmaking, two desirable qualities—strength and ductility—vary indirectly: Stronger steel is less ductile, and more ductile steel is not as strong. Engineers at Brown University, three Chinese universities, ...

Recommended for you

Lifting the brakes on fuel efficiency

22 hours ago

The work of a research leader at Michigan Technological University is attracting attention from Michigan's Governor as well as automotive companies around the world. Xiaodi "Scott" Huang of Michigan Tech's ...

Large streams of data warn cars, banks and oil drillers

Apr 16, 2014

Better warning systems that alert motorists to a collision, make banks aware of the risk of losses on bad customers, and tell oil companies about potential problems with new drilling. This is the aim of AMIDST, the EU project ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...