A preform is placed in the open mold cavity, which is then partially closed. Next, resin is injected into the mold gap at low cavity pressure, thereby partially saturating the preform with resin. Afterward, the mold is completely closed and a compression stroke presses the resin through the preform, completely saturating it. The platform is compatible with both thermoset and thermoplastic resins.

“The platform produces a better and faster impregnation of the part than with RTM and makes the process flexible and adaptable to the needs of car manufacturers,” says Kowalsky. In addition to automated loading and unloading, the Fast RTM system is fully instrumented with automatic data acquisition, process parameters traceability, energy consumption measurement systems and online, nondestructive control systems.

Kowalsky says now that the platform “has proven the feasibility and reliability of the production of large and complex parts” in the two-minute cycle time, the system is available for automotive, aerospace, railway and other transportation sectors that require high production rates. In addition, the consortium is now working on the Fast FORM project – a complementary project aimed at developing preforming processes and equipment for low-cost, fast cycle time production.

The Disrupter: Wind Blade Prototype

Broader Implications: The possibility to quickly produce blades that are stronger, cheaper and more energy efficient.

Last winter, IACMI – The Composites Institute unveiled a wind blade prototype that’s small in size – only nine meters long – but has big potential to transform the wind energy market. IACMI led a team of industrial and government partners who worked together to fabricate an advanced technology wind turbine blade featuring several innovations, including continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastic parts and exterior shell components produced with less than half of the normal carbon dioxide emissions.

“The work we are doing today will possibly revolutionize the industry five or 10 years down the road,” said Derek Berry, IACMI Wind Technology Area Director, in a YouTube video about the project. “Companies like GE Wind and Siemens and Vestas are looking at the technology we are working on to help them bring down the cost of wind energy, to build more efficient blades in the future and thus be more competitive in the marketplace with wind energy.”

iacmi-wind-turbine-blade-layup

A team lays up the 9-meter advanced technology demonstrator blade at IACMI’s Wind Technology Area in Denver. Photo Credit: IACMI – The Composites Institute

The prototype blade, which is based on designs from previous work conducted the Department of Energy, has the geometric features of a megawatt-size blade that might be 30 to 50 meters long. It utilizes several material and manufacturing innovations, including a thermoplastic resin system.