Host Institution: The University of Nottingham
Lead Investigator: Derek Irvine
Co-Investigator: Andrew Parsons, Chris Dodds
The project will develop a manufacturing process that will facilitate and accelerate the production of thermoplastic composites through the use of microwave (volumetric) heating. Thermoplastic composites are a significantly growing market because they offer a combination of high processing speeds, good toughness and attractive thermal/chemical resistance. However, because they typically exhibit high melt viscosity, successful infusion of thermoplastic resin into fibre forms can be challenging. Monomer transfer moulding (MTM) is an effective, low pressure method of producing fibre-reinforced thermoplastic composites from dry fibre that exhibit good fibre/ matrix interface quality, while avoiding issues with viscosity, fibre crushing and matrix degradation.
The main limitation of MTM is the time required for polymerisation, but studies on polymer reactions indicate that microwave heating can significantly decrease the time required. The objective of this project is to demonstrate that a microwave heating process can successfully produce a composite panel on an acceptable time scale, to establish production parameters and determine that the process is scalable. Initially a single thermoplastic (polycaprolactone) will be utilised for the tests as its microwave characteristics are well understood. The project will also assess the applicability of the method to other thermoplastics that are of interest to the automotive and aerospace industries, with a view to undertaking a broader manufacturing project.
Dr Betime Nuhiji, Microwave Technology Lead at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC)