Monday, November 17, 2014

Jim Rowan recalls making PEEK tubes for Mobile (1993)

I was employed by Courtaulds Research in the Composites Research group and we worked in labs in 72 Lockhurst Lane.  Our manager was Charles Holleyman.  Our work was directly in support of Courtaulds Structural Composites, and was funded by Courtaulds Advanced Materials, so I reported to Charles and to Ed Trewin in CSC.  My role was in filament winding R&D, to develop materials and processes and make prototypes and one-off components.  

I helped manufacture, in Coventry, by filament winding, a tube of PEEK and glass fibre that was needed for the Alabama factory to make Tencel. We were told that the plant could not start up without this tube. I think it was to go in the flow line prior to the spinnerette and was part of a metal detector system. It had to be non-metallic yet very chemically resistant and strong. No other material could fulfil the requirements at the time, and almost nobody world-wide had the technology to make this unique structure. 

The job was something of an experiment as we had only done a limited amount of development to establish a process and some materials data because of the urgency to produce the tube.  All our previous years of R&D had been on carbon/PEEK, which processes differently from glass/PEEK, and we had never made anything remotely this big.  So it was a rather stressful 42 hour marathon requiring non-stop attention.  For example, we were winding a single 6 mm x 0.125 mm tape of glass/PEEK onto an irradiated rotating mandrel at about 300 degrees C and could not stop the process without overheating the product; the tape came on spools of limited length, so every few hours we had to weld the end of one tape onto the start of the next tape (using a soldering iron and paper clips) aided by a mechanism that accumulated enough tape to allow us just enough time to stop the spool while the winding continued. 

I have located the attached document which is a very brief summary, probably for someone like Jim Ratcliffe (who went on to greater things...)

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