New composite material for rail and aerospace interiors saves money and lives

Development of process to produce new fire-resistant, cost effective and safer interior prepreg material

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The Company

Composites Evolution Ltd develops, manufactures and supplies innovative materials to the global composites industry in a range of sectors, including automotive, motorsport, sporting goods, mass transport and consumer goods.

What they do

The company focusses on working with clients to develop specific composite materials to suit a wide range of composite moulding processes and applications. Their products include fibres, resins and prepreg intermediates based on glass, carbon and bio-derived materials. From their manufacturing facility in the UK they offer in-house formulation expertise, flexible production capacity and composite design and processing know-how.

The Challenge

Composite materials are well-established for rail and aircraft interior sidewalls, galleys, lockers and seating. To meet the strict fire and weight requirements, the current solution is to use a fire-resistant composite made of phenolic (phenol formaldehyde) resin with carbon or glass fibre reinforcement.

However , there are 2 major problems with phenolics:

  1. Cost: Phenolic parts have long moulding times and need several hours of manual finishing.
  2. Safety: Phenolics emit toxic and carcinogenic materials during processing.

Most composite components are manufactured from prepreg, an intermediate material where the resin is pre-impregnated into a reinforcement fabric, for subsequent moulding into parts. Companies making components from phenolic prepregs are therefore actively looking for alternative materials to reduce cost and remove health & safety concerns to their workforce. Until now, there have been no alternative materials that can offer of these benefits.

To meet this demand, Composites Evolution developed a prepreg using polyfurfuryl alcohol (PFA), derived from bioresources, which offers significant reductions in part cost, as well as major improvements in health and safety.

The development has previously been undertaken on small-scale and prototype equipment, which did not give the manufacturing tolerances, robustness or scale needed for secure supply. Composites Evolution therefore needed to implement a full-scale manufacturing process addressing all these factors to be able to take this innovative product into production.

The Solution

Composites Evolution applied for and received grant funding from the EDRF Catalysing Growth (GTR TEM) programme, via The iNet at Loughborough University. The funding helped the company to develop the new process to carry out the following 4 main steps of the prepregging process:

  1. Material Preparation: formulation of the resin systems, catalysts and additives to give the required processing characteristics and performance.
  2. Feedstock Handling: bringing together the formulated resins and fabrics to allow effective impregnation.
  3. Fabric Impregnation: impregnating the fabric with the resin.
  4. Product Cooling: cooling the prepreg material to prevent premature setting of the resin system.

Support was received towards purchase of the capital equipment required for steps 1, 2 & 4 and towards the installation of this equipment.

The Outcome

Composites Evolution is now supplying these innovative materials into the rail industry, and prepregs for development and testing have also been supplied to several aerospace customers.

The development and commercialisation of PFA prepregs has been a classic success story, from proof-of-concept in 2010, through to the current full-scale commercial production. iNet support has formed a critical piece of the funding jigsaw, and we are now looking forward to significant growth in turnover and local employees.

Gordon Bishop, Group Managing Director
About the client

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Composites Evolution Ltd
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