Loughborough, UK-David Royle of IPTME, Loughborough University, Leicestershire, UK is working under the direction of Dr Dick Heath, of the same institute, to investigate the possibilities of using nanomaterials to enhance polyurethane RIM manufacturing and improve the finished product - for instance to develop A Class surfaces, anti-static properties, higher strength material enabling thinner section construction. He has already spent several years on this PhD project and is now looking for a sponsor to fund the last year of his research.
His existing work has looked into rapid manufacturing systems in relation to polyurethane Reaction Injection Moulding (RIM), and considers five methods, stereolithography, freeform deposition modelling, laser sintering, Z-Corporation printers and CNC high-speed milling, and how these systems can be adapted to suit low-cost niche market tooling. This is followed by the consideration of a number of different types of low-cost tooling methods - metal lamination, soft tooling using epoxy infill into aluminium boxes, and the processes related to the injection of polyurethane through the RIM process in both low and high pressure systems. A sheet metal forming system is also discussed to see if it could be used for the basis of a moulding system, to which components could be added using rapid manufacturing processes. Other aspects of low cost tooling are considered by using laminates of sandwich-honeycomb boarding for the interiors of large section moulds to achieve lightness in weight and quick turnaround, which are then high speed milled to create the detail.
The natural materials that have been considered as additives are clays, which are made up of a vast array of different minerals, but are treated so that each particle is converted to a nano scale and becomes a nano clay". It is expected that nanoclays can be encapsulated into polyurethane RIM, as with other polymer materials, to add strength, flexibility and the capacity for making lighter and thinner sections, with a higher colour resolution and have A-Class surfaces without having to apply secondary finishing, so giving the products a more contemporary feel in the challenging markets of the future. However, there are some concerns with regard to health with these materials, and studies need to be made of sociological and long-term usage within industry, as some of these materials can become toxic when they are reduced to nanomaterials.
The future of the project is to consider the possibility of using a wider range of tooling and other methods for niche market production, and to compare the costs of a product between RIM manufacturing and injection moulding, and through this examine the costs of tool making through Europe and the USA. The aim is also to investigate the European RIM market and compare it with the USA, and research into what fillers are available on the market to assist in A-Class surface finishing.