Cleveland — Three companies worked together to build a composite cooling fan for big trucks, buses and off-road construction vehicles, and they spelled out the collaboration during the Thermoset TopCon.
Ashley Industrial Molding Inc. in Ashley, Ind., molds the blades that go on Horton Inc.'s HTEC 2500 series of composite fans. IDI Composites International supplied the thermoset molding compound.
Horton, a major producer of vehicle cooling fans in Roseville, Minn., introduced the HTEC 2500 in mid-2015.
Kevin Hruby, product manager at Horton, said a big market is the mining, and oil and gas industries. Engines and their cooling systems take a beating in those environments, including extreme high and low temperatures, abrasive materials and corrosion.
“There's some nasty stuff that's doing things to these cooling systems,” Hruby said.
Another issue is government noise regulations for the rapidly spinning cooling fans.
Hruby said blades currently are made out of thermoplastic and metal. Both can need replaced or fixed if they fail — leading to costly downtime, he said.
Horton contacted IDI, in Noblesville, Ind., to find an alternative to metal, one that needed a low strength-to-weight radio, could withstand corrosion, and be able to be mass produced.
That was the sweet spot for thermoset composites, said Chris McClure, IDI's director of sales and business development.
“It's firing on all of those cylinders that we like to have, here,” he told the TopCon audience. “All this is what we do as an industry.”
It helped that IDI and Ashley were not far from each other in Indiana, he said.
Zach Montognese, advance sales engineer at Ashley Industrial Molding, said the fan blade “was one of the most critical launches that we ever had, due to the high speeds they are rotating in.”
A cross-functional team from the partner companies met in Ashley. They built a half-scale prototype, did extensive testing and then moved into making the full-size blade.
Montognese said an important task was designing the shape of the fan's leading edge to get the most air movement, but in an acceptable geometry that could be molded.
“This was a very unique opportunity, as a manufacturer, that we were able to study it with a half-scale model,” Montognese said. Ashley built the tooling for the model in six weeks, he said, highlighting the speed and relatively low cost of getting the data from the prototype.
The fan blade also shows that thermoset processing can be highly repeatable, he said.
McClure said material development was a key factor. IDI offered a high-glass, tough resin, structural thermoset composite.
Hruby said Horton had to educate the market that thermoset is not a “plastic” blade. The 2500 range of fans uses eight blades and measures from 68 to 100 inches in diameter, he said. The model with the thermoset blades could be measured in a wind tunnel and other specialized testing equipment.
Hruby said metal fan blades are not going away. But composites work well on heavy vehicles operating in harsh environments, like taconite mines, the mining of mineral in Australia, and oil and natural gas wells.