The Reichhold Group, based in Durham, N.C., is a global supplier of unsaturated polyester resins for composite materials and a range of industrial coatings. The company operates 19 manufacturing sites worldwide and employs more than 1,300 workers.
Reichhold, the Group's U.S. company, approached a manufacturer of fiberglass pipes with a proposition: If it switched from epoxy to cure the pipes to one of Reichhold's snap-curing Advalite Vinyl Hybrid resins, it could significantly speed up production. "Due to the relatively slow cure nature of epoxy resins, they needed the full length of their oven to cure and, therefore, couldn't run their production any faster," says Douglas Betts, a chemist associate at Reichhold. Betts believed his company's quick-curing resins could speed up the process, thereby reducing costs.
Reichhold worked with Phase IV Engineering to develop a solution that can pinpoint exactly when the snap cure of the resin occurs—as indicated by a temperature rise in the composites being cured. Phase IV's RFID-enabled Micro-T Data Logger captures the temperature of pipes as they cure in the customer's ovens. With that information, production managers can choose to either shut down portions of the oven farther down the line from where the resin curing takes place, in order to save energy, or speed up the line to use the full length of the oven in less time. Betts and his team are working with the customer to fine-tune the manufacturing process.
"For the first time ever, the Micro-T has enabled the engineers that are trying to dial in these fiberglass processes to get very, very accurate temperature readings of the fiberglass assembly while it's curing," says Scott Dalgleish, Phase IV Engineering's CEO. That enables the pipe manufacturer to save time and energy during the production process.
Searching for a Cure
To gain insight into the curing process, Betts knew he'd need to get an unobtrusive temperature sensor inside materials as they were curing in the oven. Wired thermocouples were not an option, he explains, because they would be a very cumbersome way to monitor the composite pipe temperature. So in November 2013, Betts shopped online for a wireless solution. "Just searching on the Internet," he says, "I came across Phase IV and their whole lineup of wireless technologies for temperature sensing." Among those offerings was the Micro-T Data Logger.
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