Vacuum Infusion Processing (VIP) has been heralded as a great solution for replacing autoclave and open molding processes for various applications. There are several advantages to VIP, which is a variation of vacuum bagging where the resin is introduced into the mold after the vacuum has pulled the bag down and compacted in the dry fiber reinforcements to form the laminate. VIP is very cost effective for fabricating large components. With VIP, manufacturers can produce high-strength, lightweight structures using the same low-cost tooling as open molding and minimal equipment.
For several years, market research companies have predicted that composite manufacturers would move toward closed molding solutions such as VIP molding. Now composites suppliers are noting a shift to VIP molding. Suppliers are meeting the new demand by investing in infusion tooling technology and collaborating with one another to develop products that help manufacturers switch to VIP molding.
A close look at the VIP market reveals three trends in tooling: improved materials to create tooling molds, rapid prototyping of master models to build molds and online applications to share information and streamline manufacturing processes.
1. Improving tooling materials for infusion
A prime example of collaboration between industry leaders is The Closed Mold Alliance, which aims to offer a turnkey closed mold system for manufacturers along with education and consultations. The Alliance is comprised of composites distributor Composites One, equipment and systems manufacturer Magnum Venus Plastech and tooling and hardware manufacturer RTM North.
CCP Composites US, Kansas City, Mo., a supplier of gel coats and resins, has been working with the Closed Mold Alliance to develop new products. “We first researched the market and decided that most companies are focusing on fillers for injection,” says Rick Pauer, marketing manager at CCP Composites US. Research indicated the company’s vinyl ester lines were well suited for VIP. “Since vinyl esters work well out-of-autoclave, you don’t have to use carbon fiber prepregs and the composite product is significantly cheaper but with similar properties,” says Pauer.
CCP Composites offers a line of OptiPlus® tooling resins to quickly build molds for numerous applications. They do not require fillers to reduce the weight of molds. The company expanded the product line to include infusion molding. “We’ve taken a product we’ve been using for onwards of 13 years and made it accessible for VIP molders,” says Pauer. An industry partner recently beta tested the resins on more than 3,500 thermoformed acrylic bath tubs to protect the bath tub mold from cracking or aging. The company informed Pauer that the molds still look brand new.