It all began with a Research Commercialization Program (RCP) grant awarded to a team headed by Dr. Sharell Mikesell, Co-director of the Center for Multifunctional Polymer Nanomaterials and Devices (CMPND). But what happened during the course of a program designed to explore novel applications of composite materials was an unexpected diversion and, as it turned out, a notable success.
The RCP was funded by the Ohio Department of Development
(ODOD) and included team members Dr. Teresa Wagner, Leader of OCV™ Pioneering Technologies at Owens-Corning
Science and Technology (S&T) center in Granville, OH; Dr. Rob Banerjee, VP for Business Development at WebCore Technologies, LLC
in Miamisburg, OH; and Steve Mitchell, who retired from GE Aviation
in Cincinnati during the RCP funding period and then transitioned to the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) as Technology Transition Group Leader. As Mitchell explained, “My program in the RCP revolved around GE Aviation. When GE ships an engine for a marine application, for a ship – cruise, navy, etc., those turbine engines are part of a system that also includes enclosures that are massive, the size of two semi trucks, side-by-side. The enclosure is like a little house and the engine resides inside it.”
“That structure is not a shipping container, it is integral to the whole system and does a lot of things – it has to be fireproof, corrosion resistant and has to provide sound attenuation so people working in engine room aren’t bothered by the noise,” he explained. “For military applications, that same engine housing has to withstand potentially enormous forces, like related to wartime activity for the ship. Obviously, the engine housing can be a very critical structure.”
“What we did under RCP was to innovate materials related to corrosion control, since many of the structures we were dealing with are currently made of steel. Our goal, and what evolved at GE, was to convert the housing to 100 percent composites,” said Mitchell. “An advantage would be a significant weight savings, but also could address corrosion and noise attenuation and make it a lot quieter for people working in engine room.” Trying to evolve an all-composite enclosure was a huge project scope. So the RCP team considered what approach to take.
On the back of the enclosure units, there are two panels larger than a standard plywood sheet (4 by 8 feet). The engine shaft comes out through hole in back of enclosure and goes to a generator, Mitchell explained, “The thought here, was if we could build those panels with same design and materials as envisioned for the entire enclosure and get them built and tested, we would lay the groundwork for doing the whole enclosure.” So Mitchell pitched this approach to the team, and with Mikesell’s support, the RCP carved out some of its funding to address engineering and testing for the composite door concept. “Mikesell, being the focal point for the RCP, was instrumental in the very beginning, when I made my case, presented my vision to the team, and described how my opportunity would fit within the RCP activity. He helped convince the team members that this was worth pursuing, because we were already doing other things on our RCP, such as the erosion coating we evolved for an engine airfoil. That had already gone into production.”
Mitchell said that WebCore and OC were willing to contribute materials. The RCP subcontracted out the fabrication of the custom-built parts to R.L. Industries an Ohio-based company. “One critical test was the E-84 fire test, which can only be conducted in a few places in U.S. The test panel – the door – was 22 by 2 feet,” said Mitchell. “We had the test done, and it was incredibly successful. We never thought we would do as well as we did.”
“GE invited the RCP team to come in and talk to them and the Navy, and all of them were blown away by what we had done. Even more interesting was the realization that Navy did not know about ODOD Third Frontier Program (under which the RCP funding is vetted) and were pleasantly surprised to meet this well-orchestrated team of researchers and our Ohio supply chain, all working together to approach a problem that is critical for them and that they would not have to fund.”
“As it turned out, we were able to address other issues related to the enclosure beyond our original work, like the door for entering the enclosure to inspect the engine. We were able to modify our RCP to include one of these issues. We expanded our scope and were able to address a feature on the door.”
Mitchell reported that, “The Navy came back and we showed them what we had done on the panels and the door. They were very impressed. So now the Navy has agreed to install the panels, on a ship, and do a sea-worthiness evaluation of these parts. This doesn’t happen often!” The RCP delivered parts to GE in Cincinnati in April, for proper fit and functionality. If we need to modify the fit, it’s better to do this on dry land. The parts will go to a ship, be installed, and undergo an at-sea evaluation.”
“Eventually all this will transition to GE and the Navy. We hope the panels are successful. But our end goal is to transition this technology to the entire enclosure, and that’s where the biggest payoff will be. The panels are a test bed to find out if the panels can survive the salt water, heat, vibration etc. before we try to apply to the entire enclosure.”
In addition, GE has asked the RCP team to do more evaluation and continue certain elements of the RCP work that interest GE. “The Navy door problem provided a very successful outcome, which got both the Navy and GE very much interested in the ODOD and our RCP,” Mitchell said.
Next steps? “If the sea trials are successful, at the minimum, this should spur the ability to go into production for these parts. So suppliers of the materials and manufacturing, and our team, could have a tremendous potential for future opportunities,” Mitchell said. “Much of the work could be based in Ohio.” The Navy is definitely pursuing follow-on activities.
“I’m quite proud of what we did,” said Mitchell. “It is a good example of what can happen. Rob and Teresa are materials suppliers; I am the end user. That’s what made our team so unique; we had the whole team all the way up through the end user – which really was our recipe for success.” “Now we are poised to simply apply our team to the new request. The fact that this team was formed because of an RCP grant is a key factor to a new technology solution and its future applications.”
The Center for Multifunctional Polymer Nanomaterials and Devices (CMPND) leads a research and commercialization partnership in polymer nanotechnology. This multi-institutional, interdisciplinary organization is centered at The Ohio State University in conjunction with research university partners, University of Akron, University of Dayton, University of Toledo, Kent State University, and Wright State University. CMPND puts Ohio at the forefront of nanotechnology research and commercialization opportunities. Other partners include three additional Ohio universities, and more than 60 large and small companies in Ohio. CMPND helps target markets that build on the research strengths of the participating universities and national labs, and develops manufacturing protocols and nanostructures for near-term industrial polymeric nanocomposites, emerging polymer photonic components and devices, and more futuristic biomedical devices and systems with nanoscale functions.
Working with its partners across business, state and local governments, academia, and the non-profit sector, the Ohio Department of Development works to attract, create, grow, and retain businesses through competitive incentives and targeted investments. Engaged every day in marketing, innovating, investing, and collaborating, the Ohio Department of Development works at the speed of business to accelerate and support the teamwork that is absolutely necessary for success by providing financial, informational, and technical assistance to those making an investment in Ohio’s future.
The Composites Solutions Business (CSB) of Owens Corning is a global reinforcements actor and a pioneer in the reinforcements, nonwovens, and composite fabrics industry, with a long history of product innovation and customer focus. CSB provides outstanding service to its customers as a result of expanded geographic scale, an extensive product base and combined technological expertise. CSB better serves both regional and global customer needs by taking advantage of new world-class technologies and innovative products, as well as improved logistics, productivity and supply efficiency. Globally, Owens-Corning, headquartered in Toledo, OH, employs 7,100 in 15 countries, maintains over 30 manufacturing facilities across Europe, America, and Asia, and has 5 R&D centers on 3 continents.
WebCore Technologies, LLC, was founded in 1991 to develop a low-cost structural core material engineered to enable optimized structural sandwich panels for better performance, reduced cost, and easier manufacturing. The entrepreneurial team invented a patented fiber reinforced composite core material called TYCOR®. The product’s broad design flexibility enables efficient engineering and performance characteristics that can be tailored to the needs of a wide range of very demanding applications and markets. The company works closely with industry leaders and partners to advance the use of composite sandwich structures as a robust solution for today’s changing marketplace.
The University of Dayton Research Institute is the research arm of the University of Dayton, located in Dayton, Ohio. UDRI is a national leader in scientific and engineering research, serving government, industry, and not-for-profit customers. Its full-time professional staff of engineers and scientists conduct research and provide support in a wide variety of technical areas. UDRI works with its customers on many levels, ranging from short-term projects completed on an as-needed basis, through contractual partnering or teaming relationships, to working side-by-side with our customers in multi-million dollar long-term contracts.