Drzal’s team used both sets of information to design the CFRP plates. First, they used the digital file from the 3D scan to create a mold of Ward’s hand. The initial mold was 3D-printed with polylactic acid (PLA) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), but it could not withstand the temperatures needed to cure carbon fiber epoxy prepreg. Consequently, the final mold was 3D-printed from polyether ether ketone (PEEK) by the university’s Fraunhofer USA Center. The final version of the brace was fabricated with four plies of Gurit’s SC 110(T2) carbon fiber/epoxy prepreg, which was chosen for its high elongation system, low temperature cure and good visual aesthetics.

Once completed, the two CFRP plates were padded with ¼-inch foam to protect other players who might come in contact with Ward and then sewn into the glove. The level of customization of Ward’s brace is unique. “There is some individualization that already occurs with brace design,” Reid Bush admits, pointing to plastic braces that can be heated and shaped. “But this takes it to another level.”

The project generated a lot of excitement as engineering students followed Ward’s injury and the development of the brace. “Everyone felt a part of it,” Reid Bush notes. Drzal agrees and says that it was fun to collaborate and see the CFRP brace on Ward’s hand during the tournament. “The only thing that would have been better is if MSU had won the NCAAs,” he says.

 Faster Curing of High-Performance FRP

Project: Frontal polymerization curing process

School: University of Illinois

Location: Champaign, Ill.

Principal Investigator: Nancy Sottos

Researchers at the University of Illinois have harnessed a polymer-curing process that reduces the energy, time and cost needed to polymerize thermoset components for FRP parts. The team from the Beckman Institute of Advanced Science and Technology in Champaign, with support from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, has advanced a frontal polymerization process to save over 10,000 times the energy required of current curing processes and take 100 times less time. Frontal polymerization is compatible with fabrication techniques such as molding, imprinting, 3-D printing and resin infusion.

“The materials used to create high-performance FRP parts have excellent thermal and mechanical performance, but the curing process – especially for large parts – is costly,” says Nancy Sottos, professor of material science and engineering. “Frontal polymerization is a self-propagating exothermic reaction wave that transforms liquid monomers to fully-cured polymers. It is a promising alternative that economizes the process by eliminating the need for autoclaves, ovens and heat-resistant molds.”