The curing process is essential to the manufacturing of polymers and composites. This process requires several time- and energy-intensive elements including long periods of time (several hours or more is typical), high temperatures (usually about 350 degrees Fahrenheit), and high external pressure coupled with an oven with an internal vacuum.
Curing is critical to products that most people benefit from on a daily basis: airlines, automobiles, and other items that must be both lightweight and incredibly strong. In most cases, the curing process is resource-intensive.
One manufacturer in the U.S. uses more than 96,000 kilowatt-hours of energy and produces more than 80 tons of CO2 to manufacture just one section of a commercial airliner, according to the University of Illinois News Bureau.
— U of I News Bureau (@NewsAtIllinois) May 9, 2018
Seeking a new curing method
Though the curing process is necessary, manufacturers would likely welcome an alternative that could cut costs and energy expenditures, as long as it produced the same reliable results as the typical curing process. This was the goal of researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The scientists experimented with using heat to trigger a chemical reaction that would produce similar results but require far less energy and time, according to a research report published in Nature.
“By touching what is essentially a soldering iron to one corner of the polymer surface, we can start a cascading chemical-reaction wave that propagates throughout the material,” Scott White, the lead author for the paper, explained. “Once triggered, the reaction uses enthalpy, or the internal energy of the polymerization reaction, to push the reaction forward and cure the material, rather than an external energy source.”
By carefully releasing the energy stored in polymer resin, the curing process can be accomplished using 10 fewer orders of magnitude of energy and two fewer orders of magnitudes of time.
The future of polymer curing
The experiment conducted by White and his colleagues is just one step toward altering the curing process for the benefit of manufacturers and their carbon footprints. Though it’s far from being scaled up for larger companies to utilize, it does show how powerful heat sources can be when used intelligently and creatively.
Heat is already an important element in the manufacturing process. The key to using heat in the most beneficial and safest way is to find the right heat tools. Master Appliance’s heat guns, heat blowers and soldering irons are dependable and long-lasting so you can always rely on them. To find the right heat tool for your operation, explore the online store today.