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New polymer manufacturing process developed: UI researchers
CHICAGO, May 10, 2018 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Copyright 2018 XINHUA NEWS AGENCY

Researchers at the University of Illinois (UI) have developed a new polymer-curing process that could reduce the cost, time and energy needed, compared with the current manufacturing process.

The new manufacturing process requires only a quick touch from a small heat source to send a cascading hardening wave through a polymer.

The findings, posted on UI's website on Wednesday, state that the new polymerization process uses 10 orders of magnitude less energy and can cut two orders of magnitudes of time over the current manufacturing process.

"By touching what is essentially a soldering iron to one corner of the polymer surface, we can start a cascading chemical-reaction wave that propagates throughout the material," said UI aerospace engineering professor and lead author Scott White. "Once triggered, the reaction uses enthalpy, or the internal energy of the polymerization reaction, to push the reaction forward and cure the material, rather than an external energy source."

The researchers have demonstrated that this reaction can produce safe, high-quality polymers in a well-controlled laboratory environment. They envision the process accommodating large-scale production due to its compatibility with commonly used fabrication techniques like molding, imprinting, 3-D printing and resin infusion.

"This development marks what could be the first major advancement to the high-performance polymer and composite manufacturing industry in almost half a century," said White.

The strong, lightweight and heat resistant materials have excellent thermal and mechanical performance and are used to create aircraft and automobiles.

The findings have been published in Nature.


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