New Composites Microwave Process Simulated Successfully

For the first time a large microwave system has been successfully simulated using standard 3D numerical methods to design moulds, accelerate curing of thermosets and achieve welding process for thermoplastic products in full industrial detail.

The work has been supported by MU-Tool, a European-funded project to develop an alternative method of microwave processing composites to enable low cost and rapid manufacture.

Efficient and sustainable uses of resources continually drive the development of new lightweight solutions in nearly all markets, especially in the transportation industry. Materials such as commodity metal alloys are being replaced by polymer composites which add value to their greater functional properties and efficient manufacturing processes. Development work at TWI’s Cambridge laboratories has identified high-frequency technology as offering unique advantages in product quality, productivity and automation, energy efficiency and price leverage, compared with thermal processing that will increase the industrial volume production of advanced composites. These composite materials offer a high, lightweight exploitation potential as well as efficient recycling potential of the valuable components.

Hephaistos technology, invented by Lambert Feher, has been used for curing composite products at TWI since 2009. The Hephaistos microwave oven’s unique interior geometry, together with its waveguides, allows fast and even heating of the part to be cured, and demonstrates that microwave field patterns are more even at small dimensions. In comparison with alternative methods, Hephaistos makes it possible to process higher-quality cured composite components and, at the same time, to increase productivity with optimised energy efficiency.