For the first time, the HEPHAISTOS CA1 (VHM 100/100), a large revolutionary microwave system, has been successfully simulated using standard 3D numerical methods (FDTD Finite Difference Time Domain) to design moulds, accelerate curing of thermosets and achieve welding process for thermoplastic products in full industrial detail. The work has been supported by a European-funded project involving suppliers to the automotive and aerospace industries. HEPHAISTOS technology, invented by Lambert Feher, has been used for curing composite products at TWI since 2009.
Efficient and sustainable uses of resources continually drive the development of new lightweight solutions in nearly all market segments, 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.
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.
The TWI HEPHAISTOS facility is available at TWI's laboratories in Middlesbrough for aerospace and automotive composite engineering as well as product development. Starting from the lab-scale, TWI can also offer world-leading computational methods, design of composite parts, technical development for high-frequency systems and composite technologies, experimental prototyping and testing as well as consulting on the industrial capitalisation of applying new production technologies.
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