The Advanced Engineered Wood Composites (AEWC) Center at the University of Maine recently received a $200,000 grant from the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) to expand its Wood-Thermoplastic Composite (WPC) processing capacities.
AEWC’s expansion plans also received support from industrial partners, Correct Building Products, Pallmann Pulverizers Co. and Colortronic North America.
Currently, the AEWC Center’s ISO 17025 certified laboratories offer a broad menu of testing and product development capacities in plastic materials, adhesives, structural panels and assemblies, wood products and materials and composite materials.
The new funding and industrial support will allow AEWC to build on its current extrusion R & D in 6 major categories: compounding and pelletization, agglomeration, injection moulding, co-extrusion, foamed extrusion and analysis and testing.
Pelletization equipment will allow full utilization of compounded WPC material from the Center’s two extruders: a Davis Standard WT-94 Woodtruder and a Cinncinnati Milacron CM55 conical twin screw extruder.
Agglomeration – the process of particle size enlargement in which small fine particles are gathered into larger masses, clusters, pellets or briquettes – will be supported by Pallmann Pulverizers Co. and Colortronic North America. These companies will source an agglomerator at the AEWC Center to allow development and refinement of AEWC’s WPC compounding techniques.
MTI funding will enable the purchase of an injection molding system which will expand in-house capacities for the determination of operating and mechanical properties of various WPC formulations. This system will be used as a tool to gauge and establish base-line performance data of various formulation compounds thus enabling the AEWC Center to provide mechanical performance data to companies interested in either adding new product lines or improving current products.
With support from Correct Building Products and MTI, the Center will purchase components needed to co-extrude on its CM55 conical twin-screw. The benefits of this co-extrusion process include reduced material costs, increased surface stabilization, and improved colorfastness. Another aspect of the expansion of extrusion capacities will be the Center’s development of foamed extrusion expertise.
Finally, the Center will expand its analysis and testing capacities with the purchase of two pieces of equipment: a thermogravimetric analyzer-differential thermal analyzer (TGA-DTA) to examine thermal kinetics and degradation of wood and polymers during WPC processing; and a capillary rheometer to study the fluid-flow viscosity of molten polymers.
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