Heat management specialist Zircotec Group has opened a new R&D facility for developing thermal coatings, heat shields and manufacturing processes. Dr Paul Prince, a chemist with a background in nanotechnology, is to head up the center, which will provide a wealth of data on the high temperature performance of thermal barrier coatings.
“Unlike academic research, our activities will provide an immediate commercial benefit for our customers by enabling us to select the optimum solutions for their individual applications more quickly,” explained Dr Prince. “We can compress the timescale for each new application by using a comprehensive database on material performance to guide the initial selection, reducing the number of design iterations needed to reach the optimum result. The facility will also enable us to develop new solutions and advance our manufacturing processes.”
A special test rig installed at the facility uses a controlled heat source to evaluate coatings and heat shields at gas temperatures up to 900°C, but can also generate useful data at much lower temperatures. Two engineers are already working with the rig on projects that will result in new products and cost-effective processes to manufacture them.
The coatings and processes developed will be applicable to heat shields, surrounding components and directly onto the heat source itself, reflecting the span of applications addressed by Zircotec’s products. “For some applications we recommend one of our high-performance, ultra-thin heat shield materials, whether structural or flexible; for others we offer direct coating of the exhaust,” said Dr Prince. “We regularly coat carbon composite and plastic materials; our plasma application process gives such good adherence that the coating can tolerate the flexing associated with these parts.”
Zircotec’s investment is driven by growing demand from the automotive industry for solutions to manage today’s higher exhaust line temperatures, according to Dr Prince. “Pressures to reduce emissions and improve engine efficiency are leading to powertrain strategies that continually increase exhaust temperatures,” he said. “For example, the use of alternative fuels, such as natural gas in place of petrol or diesel, can raise the exhaust temperature by 200°C. Accommodating such a large increase within a packaging space that is often highly constrained requires advanced thermal barrier technology.”
The test facility is part of a greater expansion taking place at Zircotec, with recruitment underway for new engineering vacancies and more likely to follow later in the year. In addition to the high temperature rig, Zircotec is investing in thermal imaging equipment that will provide a more comprehensive insight into temperature distributions than can be achieved through conventional instrumentation. The facility will also be developing processes within the business that will allow continuous improvement and greater automation, considerably increasing the company’s capabilities.