SAN ANTONIO — An Angleton, Texas, firm is manufacturing equipment for the rapid production of fiberglass preforms using a potentially revolutionary process from Dow Chemical Co.'s industrial composites group.
Donnie Murrell formed Thermal Composite Spray Systems LC in April. He split the manufacturing from his 6-year-old equipment sales operation, Thermal Polymer Systems LC, also of Angleton.
In the Dow process, a thermal spray gun combines a melted thermoplastic resin binder and a stream of chopped, continuous-strand fiberglass and directs the material toward a preform screen. The binder solidifies on contact with the screen, eliminating the need for a separate heating operation.
The TCSS-MX98 is ``probably the fastest system on the market now for making preforms with the least amount of waste,'' Murrell said at Composites '98 in San Antonio.
Marine and automotive fabricators can use resin transfer molding, vacuum-assisted RTM or structural reaction injection molding to turn the preforms into structural composite parts.
Dow's industrial composites laboratories in Freeport, Texas, developed the process. Patents in several countries cover the technology, and a patent application in the United States is pending.
``The process tackles one of the largest impediments to expanding RTM and VRTM molding,'' said Dow development associate Larry Craigie. ``This technology gives the molder a one-step process to rapidly produce preforms using the lowest-cost glass and without creating environmental concerns.''
The basic hand-held unit costs about $60,000. Also, a user needs a blower system and the preform screens to complete the system.
Murrell's firm can modify the system for use with robotics. Modifications would include protection from automatic ignition or gas on-and-off switching.
Dow sells the binder and has licensed the equipment manufacturing phase to Murrell's firm. Murrell has worked with Dow on the project for more than two years.
An automotive firm has used the Dow process in a Mexican plant for about one year. The firm operates an early prototype unit in a regular production environment.