A few years ago, when Toby Jacobson came home from a work trip, a piece of foam he was carrying caught his seven-year-old son’s attention. Jacobson explained the company he works for, Grand Haven, Mich.-based automotive supplier Shape Corp., was collaborating with a German bed manufacturer called Thomas Technik + Innovation (TTI) on an innovative bumper project. Even at his young age, his son realized that a partnership between a company that supplies automotive components and one that makes beds was unique. “Dad, who you working with? Bed, Bath and Bumpers?” Jacobson recalls his son asking.
TTI specializes in the design and manufacturing of bedding systems, including foam mattresses and bed bases. In the early 1990s, TTI started replacing the wood in their bed slats (an alternative to box springs) with pultruded composites. After struggling to find a pultrusion shop that could produce parts that met its standards, TTI created its own pultrusion R&D team to design equipment.
Those efforts eventually led to the creation of the company’s Radius-Pultrusion™ process, which enables the continuous manufacture of curved profiles. TTI has now licensed the process to Shape to help with technology development, testing, product development and scaling up for high-volume production. “Until now there hasn’t been a way to make a continuous curved closed section composite part,” explains Jacobson, a research development engineer at Shape.
The company’s novel approach was not lost on the judging committee for CAMX-The Composites and Advanced Materials Expo. During last month’s show, Shape was a finalist for an Award for Composites Excellence (ACE) in the Infinite Market Growth category for using Radius-Pultrusion to make a urethane acrylate resin-based composite product that will soon be ready for market.
While Shape intends to market the product primarily to the automotive market due to its high demand for streamlined curved parts, the company says it has received interest from businesses who see potential for curved, closed-channel, pultruded profiles in a wide range of applications, including infrastructure, construction, agriculture, marine and storage tanks. “Very few things in the world are straight,” says Jacobson. “We need curvature, we need different radii and we need things to fit with one another.”
In traditional linear or straight pultrusion, tows and cloths are wetted via resin bath or injection box and pulled through a heated die. The die, which is typically stationary on the machine, consolidates the materials and cures the resin matrix, resulting in a constant cross section part. The material and resultant part is pulled through the die via grippers – typically two functioning in a reciprocating mode aligned with the die. Many systems have an automated cut-off tool allowing for the production of discrete parts cut to a finished length.