An Australian company has secured a U.S. patent on its new process for making high-performance composite parts for aircraft, boats and motor vehicles.
Quickstep Holdings Ltd., based in Fremantle, has been developing its ``melding'' process for composite production for about six years. The firm announced the U.S. patent Nov. 7.
It already holds patents covering Australia and China.
The melding process - a term derived from a mixture of melting and welding - allows composite components to be joined without using traditional high-temperature autoclaves. Quickstep Chief Executive Officer Nick Noble said an autoclave-based process is the industry standard used to make and join composite components, like carbon fiber, fiberglass or Kevlar, using different resins.
``In the autoclave process you need to heat up the parts to cure them. It's like baking a cake,'' he said.
Quickstep's melding process does away with autoclaves and, by using different curing rates and precisely controlling temperatures at join sites, can join components faster and seamlessly, without needing adhesives, bolts or rivets, he said. Benefits include reduced production times. Noble said melding takes about 25 percent the time of an autoclave and has capital cost savings and greater design flexibility.
He said the process is in its final development stages. ``It's not being used in production yet, but it's very close,'' Noble said. ``Certainly by this time next year it should be in production.''
Possible markets are the automotive, marine and aerospace industries - with aerospace holding the largest potential, he said.
To demonstrate its process, Quickstep has established ``showcase sites'' in its home city of Fremantle; in Munich, Germany; Manchester, England; and Dayton, Ohio. The Dayton center opened in October last year. Both General Electric Co.'s GE Aviation division and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. are using it to explore the potential of the melding process.
``North America has the world's largest aerospace manufacturing sector and is the largest global producer of composite materials,'' Noble said.