(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth article in a multi-part series focused on Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF), truly one of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region’s greatest technology and innovation assets. In this post, the focus is on a partnership that involves Magnum Venus Products Inc., a company that moved its headquarters to the region in 2016.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
As noted by Bill Peter in the previous articles in this series about Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF), partnerships with industry are a key success factor for the world-class resource located in West Knox County’s Hardin Valley and focused on additive manufacturing.
One of those key collaborators is Magnum Venus Products Inc. (MVP), a manufacturer of composite application equipment including pumping systems, spray guns, large-scale 3D printers, and filament winding systems. The 70-year old company relocated its headquarters to the region in 2015, some two years after it first started working with ORNL.
Now, two years after launching a major cooperative research and development project, the two have successfully created and deployed the world’s first large-scale thermoset additive manufacturing machine. Announced in March, MVP’s Reactive Additive Manufacturing (RAM) machine is the first product of its type and capabilities commercially available to industry.
As part of the project, MVP and ORNL also collaborated with Polynt, one of the world’s largest manufacturers and suppliers of specialties, intermediates and composites. That partnership resulted in a new product – Polynt’s Reactive Additive Deposition (PRD1520) material – that was developed for and specifically works with the RAM machine to allow fabrication of Vinyl-Ester thermoset materials at a large-scale.
You might be wondering, “What’s the significance of this new machine?” We posed that question to Mike Kastura, MVP’s Senior Product and Marketing Manager, who told us in a recent interview that the new process will significantly improve the production of large prototypes and production parts like low-cost fixtures, tools and autoclave molds for industries including the marine, automotive, aerospace, and tub and showers segments.
It starts with the features that differentiate thermoplastics from thermosets. Both are forms of polymer powders that react to the application of heat very differently.
“Think of it as the difference between butter and pancakes,” Kastura explained with thermoplastics being butter in the example and thermosets playing the role of pancakes.
Butter or thermoplastics can be heated, remolded and cooled as often as necessary without having any change in the chemical properties. On the other hand, a thermoset is a material that forms chemical bonds and, in some cases, can be strengthened when heated. Once that occurs, it cannot be remolded. That said, thermosets can withstand higher temperatures without losing structural integrity – an important feature.
“One of the shortcomings of thermal plastics is the fact that the tools (made from them) are not as strong or don’t have the right thermo-properties as industry needs them to be,” Kastura says. With RAM, that deficiency is removed. What used to be a six-week process to produce a tool can be completed in just four days using thermosets.
“The energy efficiency (of the RAM machine) is vastly superior to anything else on the market,” Kastura added.
The first-year of the roughly 24-month collaboration began with the building of the machine that has a print area of 16 feet x 8 feet x 3.5 feet. During the second-year, the focus was on the material development and process of combining two composites so they can be printed.
Here’s a high-level video overview of the process and the RAM machine.
“There is no way we could have done this without the collaboration with ORNL and our materials partners, Polynt and Dixie Chemical,” Kastura said. “It’s been an awesome collaboration to create this one-of-a-kind solution.”
MVP and ORNL recently executed another three-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement. “We expect many innovative things to come out of this work,” Kastura added.