AEM Innovation Network Case Study Bromley Technologies Ltd
When ITM Power were approached by a German technology company to use one of their hydrogen generators for the supply of gas into a sintering furnace, they turned to metals industry experts at NAMTEC to provide a further insight into this exciting market opportunity.
Bromley Technologies is currently expanding its product range from the ultra niche Olympic market into the global recreational goods market place. This growth is spearheaded by product innovations that aim to harness the high value qualities of a new breed of thermoplastic composite materials.
The hydrogen generators, based upon proton exchange membrane (PEM) technology, are ideally suited to producing the high purity hydrogen gas required for many high temperature sintering operations.
The sports industry is today worth £300bn/yr (of the same size as the Aerospace Industry) and is growing rapidly However the industry is facing multiple challenges and is a rapidly changing environment, driven by the demand for eco environmentally sustainable goods, lower manufacture costs, higher performance and European end of life directives.
During the sintering of most powdered metals, a furnace gas containing hydrogen is required to provide a reducing atmosphere, which helps to promote desirable reactions which ultimately result in high strength, corrosion resistant components. Usually containing nitrogen and other components, this gas would traditionally be provided by mixing bottled gas, cracking ammonia or by the incomplete combustion of natural gas.
The use of high performance composites is growing rapidly across the sports goods sectors due to their high performance attributes and inherent formability into complex shapes. However 90% of polymer composite products employ traditional thermoset composite systems. These materials are inherently non recyclable, require high labour intensive production processes and emit high amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s).
For certain materials such as stainless steel or tungsten hardmetals, this atmosphere needs to be pure hydrogen with a low moisture content to prevent oxidation. With instability in speciality gas prices, manufacturers of sintered components are keen to explore alternative sources of hydrogen and electrolysers can provide a viable long term solution. Benefits include a small footprint, low running costs and security of supply.
A new breed of thermoplastic composites are emerging that are a class of polymer composites that offer potential solutions to the aforementioned issues surrounding thermoset polymer composites. They can be processed in fast cycle times (minutes) due to their thermoform able nature, are inherently recyclable, emit zero VOC’s and exhibit better structural qualities than their thermoset counterparts. However processing of these new breed of materials still presents multiple challenges, including limited processing knowledge, high capital equipment costs and expensive tooling costs.
Funded via the AEM Innovation Network, NAMTEC used its extensive knowledge of the metals industry to carry out an in-depth review across a broad range of sintering applications, providing ITM Power with vital information about the precise requirements of gas supply and purity, as well as details of competitor systems and qualified listings of potential customers. As a leading exponent of materials engineering knowledge transfer and as an independent research and technology organisation NAMTEC was able to access information from the supply chain which is otherwise difficult for a single organisation to achieve.
Supported by funding from the AEM Innovation Network, managed by the National Metals Technology Centre, Bromley Technologies Ltd worked alongside the University of Sheffield Boeing AMRC to develop specialised innovative tooling for low cost pressure forming equipment. The AMRC, located alongside Bromley Technologies on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Rotherham, supported the project by providing specialised tooling design and 5-axis machining capabilities.
For more information on ITM Power’s range of products and technology offerings please visit www.itm-power.com
The project developed tooling that enables lower cost manufacture of thermoplastic composite components by reducing the process cycle time per part to 5-10 minutes as opposed to the current hand layup process cycle time of 12-24 hrs per part normally associated with thermoset composite material systems. This represents a major step forward in the commercial application of these materials into this exciting market.
This will hopefully open up a new market for ITM Power’s already successful range of hydrogen based energy systems. Marcus Newborough, Development Director at ITM Power said “Having access to this type of business support service through the AEM Innovation Network, allows us to concentrate our resources on the technology developments we need to make to bring products to market quicker”.
AEM Innovation Network Case Study ITM Power
Bromley Technologies Ltd has forged a world lead position in the design and manufacture of high performance Skeleton & Bobsleigh race sled technologies. The company supplies to over 90% of the Olympic teams in the world and has created a brand based on performance, innovation and quality. Bromley has achieved this position through an unwavering commitment to in-house research and development and an innovation philosophy led by the market.