Composite-curing process wins student design competition

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A pair of students from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have taken first place at the annual Student Manufacturing Design Competition held by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

Mechanical engineering doctoral students Casey Hoffman and Jaron Kuppers won top honours in the national competition last month for developing their Specialised Elastomeric Tooling (SET) process.

The patent-pending process offers a new method for curing advanced composites by replacing the need for autoclaves - energy-intensive machines that cost hundreds of thousands of pounds - in composites manufacturing.

The SET process involves curing a composite laminate by pressing the material between heated, rubber-lined moulds. Heating occurs quickly because the composite is in direct contact with the tool.

The pair claim that the SET process results in up to a 1,000-fold energy saving over an autoclave and eliminates the need for expensive consumable materials that are sent to landfill after use. The time required to prepare a composite part for curing in an autoclave is a few hours, while it takes less than 10 minutes to do the same on an SET system.

The award-winning student research was sponsored by Kintz Plastics in Howes Cave, NY, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).