Composite resin systems, including polyester
with different fibre reinforcements, are used in a wide variety
of modern applications. Electron beam curing of composites, a process
specifically developed for military applications, has been applied
successfully in the aerospace industry. Compared to conventional
heat curing methods, electron beam curing results in more flexible
resin systems and allows shorter polymerisation cycles, simplified
tooling and reduced energy consumption.
This project was intended to demonstrate the
utility of electron beam curing in non-military, surface transportation
applications. Several resin systems were considered, including polyester,
epoxy and BMI with glass and carbon fibre reinforcement. Three different
prototypes were manufactured: a 10-meter-long boat hull, a train
bogie and a helicopter swash-plate part, all demonstrating cost
reductions when compared to heat curing production.
According to project partners, this was
the first time such large parts were produced using this method,
giving Europe a clear competitive edge in a state-of-the-art technology.
Furthermore, in the case of polyester resin, electron beam polymerisation
processing means reduced exposure to styrene monomers, a major heath
advantage compared to standard thermal processes. A follow-up project
is currently in preparation.