A partnership involving composites experts from the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing has won a top Asian innovation award.
Researchers Jounghwan Lee, Richard Grainger and Kevin Mee were part of the team that won the JEC Asia award for innovation in automotive applications for their work on developing a complex composite acoustic cover for a car engine bay that can be cured in an industrial microwave.
The AMRC team carried out the research in partnership with South Korean research centre KCTECH (Korea Institute of Carbon Convergence Technology) and the Ssangyoung Motor Company.
Jounghwan Lee said: “It was great to win this prestigious award for our first collaboration with KCTECH.
“Microwave curing is a new technology, which has only been used for simple shapes in the past. It offers a number of benefits over other methods, including saving time and energy.
“We had to undertake a lot of research and development to satisfy all the requirements and to make the part successfully.”
Microwave curing offers a number of benefits over more traditional curing methods using ovens or autoclaves, where components are subject to pressure, as well as heat.
Energy costs and the time taken to cure the composite components are substantially reduced as microwave energy penetrates into the material and energy is not wasted heating the rest of the oven.
Using microwaves reduced curing time and energy consumption by up to 30 per cent for the acoustic cover and further gains are expected following additional research.
JEC Composites Magazine, which ran the JEC Asia awards, said: “Curing the engine acoustic cover by microwaves is one of the most difficult tasks in the manufacturing process since the shape of the cover is quite complex.
“No companies in the composite industry have tackled this challenge so far.”
The magazine says composite covers are attractive to the automotive market because they have excellent thermal resistance and noise and vibration absorption, weigh less and are less prone to noise leakage and are more environmentally friendly.
The AMRC Composites Centre joined forces with KCTECH to collaborate on developing novel technologies in 2012following a visit to the AMRC’s site at Catcliffe, between Sheffield and Rotherham, by KCTECH’s president and the mayor of Jeonju City, in South Korea, where the company is based.
The Composites Centre and KCTECH have no plans to rest on their laurels, following the JEC Asia success.
The Centre is now working on a further project with KCTECH to develop a novel manufacturing process to make automotive leaf springs using composite materials, which would be lighter and more energy efficient and also give car passengers a more comfortable ride.