GKN invests in microwave oven for composites curing

The oven will be used mostly for research, but early data show that GKN could reduce cure times by 50 percent and energy consumption by 90 percent.

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Aerospace composites manufacturer GKN Aerospace (Cowes, Isle of Wight, U.K.) reports that it has purchased its first industrial-standard microwave oven for curing composites, becoming one of the few industrial organizations worldwide to own such a machine for its own research use. The new equipment will be used by GKN Aerospace engineers in Munich, Germany, in ongoing research (begun in 2005) into the use of microwave curing in place of autoclave curing in the production of composite structures.  Although the autoclave, says GKN, is a highly effective processing oven, it is expensive, and the time and energy requirements are very high — representing a significant and relatively inflexible bottleneck in the manufacturing process. “Microwave processing promises to remove much of this costly bottleneck,” claims Phil Grainger, GKN’s senior technical director and chief technologist. “It could cut processing times by 50 percent and we are seeing evidence that energy consumption could be cut by a staggering 90 percent.”

GKN Aerospace purchased the microwave oven from Vötsch Industrietechnik GmbH (Reiskirchen-Lindenstruth, Germany). The oven has a curing chamber capacity of 7,000L (247 cu-ft) and produces power of 30 kW. Microwave technology will heat only the composite structure. Reportedly, the associated tooling and the oven chamber remain cool, offering the possibility of dramatic reductions in both heating and cooling times. GKN says the challenge for the researchers in Munich is to turn this potential into practical, production-ready curing processes in time to service next-generation aircraft projects.