We find the most effective cure process for your hardware based on engineering requirements, schedule, and budget. From room temperature cure to autoclave, we’ll provide a high-quality solution within program parameters.
The Cure Process
Curing is the period in composites manufacturing where flexible fibers are transformed into high-strength, hardened structures through a chemical process. The duration of this process can be controlled through heat and pressure. A great example of controlling the curing duration is prepreg material. This fabric has been cured just enough to bond the fibers and must be refrigerated to stop the curing process. Then after the prepreg is formed to the mold, curing is completed using heat to continue the chemical process.
Composite autoclaves are specially designed pressurized ovens that carefully control the temperature and pressure applied to the composite material, strengthening the bonds between the individual fibers. Autoclaves provide perfect surface quality by applying high pressure that compresses the part and prevents air voids from forming and generating very high temperatures that can be controlled up to 1 degree. Autoclaves produce the highest quality parts and thus are often used for applications in Aerospace and Space markets. This is the most expensive curing process. At Rock West, our autoclave can handle 6 foot by 14 foot parts and achieve an overall flatness of 0.020 – 0.025 inches.
In addition to heat, pressure can help in the curing process. Pressure eliminates air pockets and improves the surface quality of the composite part. In compression molding, high heat and pressure are applied to the composite material through a closed mold. This rapidly cures the composite, and the finished part is simply extracted from the tool.
Higher temperatures can help the curing move faster. With large ovens, we can process large parts, or many parts at once. We can control the temperature within 5 degrees thus ensuring consistency in the process. Using an oven to complete the cure adds cost but speeds the process and generally provides higher quality parts.
Room Temperature Curing
Because it is a chemical process, curing can be completed at room temperature. This is the slowest method of curing but there is no equipment cost and no limitations on size. Vacuum bagging may be used to control compaction and air pockets or voids.