What do you see driving the industry right now and how does OOA/OOO relate?
As composites become more commonly used in greater volumes and in new applications, demand for heating and control solutions is increasing. The requirements for these systems are becoming more varied and the traditional methods will not always meet customer needs. For example, autoclave and oven processing can have challenges when the components that need to be heated are too large to fit into an autoclave/oven during manufacturing, such as with wind blades, or during repair on airplanes. Autoclave and oven processing can be challenging in applications where they are not available. An example of this is repair of composite automobile structures. It is not often practical to send the damaged components back to the manufacturer for repair and alternate methods of regional repair had to be developed.
There are technologies that are used in tandem with OOA and OOO, i.e. integral heating/cooling, multiple-frequency microwave curing, direct hot air impingement and induction heating. How is HEATCON involved in these developments?
HEATCON focuses on equipment and materials to assure process reliability and supporting the industry using innovative approaches to achieving thermal uniformity during processing. We’re focused on market opportunities related to the further development of traditional techniques rather than adapting new processing techniques as described above. Design and regulatory organizations have authority over process development. HEATCON Composite Systems does, however, cooperate on a case-by-case basis with these organizations.
As composite structures increase in size and complexity, we continue to develop products which enable technicians to meet OEM requirements. Our main product, commonly called a “hot bonder” within the industry, enables a technician to control and monitor heat and pressure during a composite cure. Heat is typically applied with these systems using heat blankets, but can also be applied with hot air systems, or heat lamps. We have recently developed our hot bonder to allow for more capability with large complex structures by “networking” our equipment to allow for control and monitoring of a much larger area than a single hot bonder is capable of. This type of system was recently used to perform a repair which gained a fair amount of media attention.
Can you explain the development and uses of these processes and how they impact the industry?
In terms of advancing traditional composite curing equipment capabilities, HEATCON has introduced innovations such as large area multi-zone hot bonder curing, allowing our customers to effectively “scale up” their activities to address larger composite structures. Through the use of newer equipment, high capital costs that have been traditionally associated with composite material processing using autoclaves and ovens are being reduced significantly.
What challenge do you see having the largest impact in the next few years?
The main challenge for effective use of bonders and heaters is having a skilled workforce that is well familiar with the unique characteristics and properties of composites, especially compared to metals. This leads to skill standardization and the need to follow approved processing procedures to assure quality part manufacture and repair.