Fri, 03 December, 2021
One of the more exciting developments that TWI was involved in over the last 12 months was the continued development of an innovative new precision welding technology for high value plastic and composite parts alongside Pinweld Ltd.
With a recent funding award from Innovate UK’s Smart Grant Scheme to produce a variant for repair in the automotive sector, the technology is able to join plastic materials in an entirely new way.
Pinweld has applications across many industry sectors and the technology is already gaining attention from a number of manufacturers.
With interest growing, we took some time to speak with Pinweld’s Commercial Director, Stephen Perris to find out more…
Could you start by telling us a little bit about the Pinweld technology.
In short, it’s a precision linear welding process for plastics that allows very fine joints to be made without a consumable, an adhesive, or a solvent. Essentially, the technology works by oscillating within the joint or fracture and manipulating and reforming the existing polymer as it tracks along the joint. It’s this process that ensures thorough mixing and good fusion. In a nutshell, that’s Pinweld.
Early trials indicated really promising joint strength of way above 70% parent material strength, and that’s without any product optimisation. Since then, in our drive to improve the weld strength, we have been able to detect beneficial improvements in other physical properties that will enable users and designers to really push the use-cases of the technology.
What are the advantages of this over other welding techniques?
The key advantages in brief are:
- Flexible – no requirement to identify and find a matching filler rod
- Safe – a compact, lightweight system requiring ultra-low energy usage
- Speed – with minimal preparation and post-processing, coupled with AI controls, Pinweld has the potential to be a “right first time, every-time” technology
- Reliable – repeatable weld strength and flexibility approaching that of virgin material
- Precise – sub-millimetre accuracy and negligible warping, even below 1mm wall thicknesses
- Future proof – the AI systems employed allow the technology to “learn” the characteristics of a new or a recycled blend of thermoplastic
We understand that you are already gaining attention from across industry, but what sort of applications does Pinweld lend itself to?
The initial focus of our development was thin sheet plastics, which is ideally suited to the automotive repair sector, but so much has happened in the past six months with a diverse spread of interest from aviation to aquaculture.
It does seem that, given the underlying remit of the Pinweld process, many industry sectors share the same aspirations and limitations with regard to plastics and are finding the possibilities of our welding technology valuable in their future requirements. We have certainly had a lot of interest from utilities operators in the area of joining pipes.
The Pinweld technology lends itself to fast, bead-free and leak free joining of pipes due to its speed, compact dimensions and ultra-low heat affected zone (HAZ). From discussions with various people working in the ‘field,’ so to speak, the potential advantages they’re reporting are very exciting. Focusing on manufacturing, we are engaging with technology integration companies to investigate how robotics can be utilised to streamline existing processes within manufacturing to reduce weight and component count.
Manufacturers of medical equipment are also volume users of engineering plastics for a range of reasons and we are currently working on a world-beating project to weld complex acrylic shapes with a high degree of accuracy and control. The Pinweld technology is particularly stable in this application and so far appears to have solved a chronic design problem.
There are also some more developments underway for Pinweld – can you tell us more about this?
Following the Innovate UK award, Pinweld has engaged with various faculties within the University of Bath including MC2 (Material and Chemical Characterisation Facility), IAAPS (The Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems) and the materials and structures faculty. There are many exciting and crucial developments happening here, but of particular interest are the research into collaborative opportunities to develop manufacturing applications for recycled material feedstocks and the planned work with MC2 in the area of bioplastics and how the Pinweld process can work with newly developed polymers. In addition to all of the above, the chemistry of the weld process will be under intense scrutiny and examination from a team of scientists. Linking industry and academia is how were looking to develop the technology - to research, test, evaluate and expand the offering.
We are certainly excited to see how Pinweld develops, but what do you see as the future for the technology over the coming months?
It’s fair to say there is so much happening at the moment for Pinweld and clearly the next six months will be fascinating as we extend our internal and external testing and development programme. Clearly, we have an objective to deliver on the Innovate UK grant to produce a prototype tool for the automotive repair industry. This raises the thought that if the technology is effective at repair, then it will be even more effective in a production setting.
It is exactly that thinking that led to our Technology Director, Keven Chappell, being invited to speak at a leading manufacturing conference in the United States next March. In addition to that, we’re looking to see how the technology works on a large scale when robotised systems cope with complex geometries and variable wall thicknesses in a single pass.
Overall, we’re interested to engage to see how we might exploit a range of opportunities and so we’re very keen to talk with companies on a collaborative basis who are seeking ways to improve their design and manufacturing options.
You can find out more about this innovative, ground-breaking technology at www.pinweld.com or by contacting Stephen directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.