Manufacturing & Prototyping

Manufacture of Regularly Shaped Sol-Gel Pellets

For mass production, an extrusion process is superior to a spray process. An extrusion batch process for manufacturing regularly shaped sol-gel pellets has been devised as an improved alternative to a spray process that yields irregularly shaped pellets. The aspect ratio of regularly shaped pellets can be controlled more easily, while regularly shaped pellets pack more efficiently. In the extrusion process, a wet gel is pushed out of a mold and chopped repetitively into short, cylindrical pieces as it emerges from the mold. The pieces are collected and can be either (1) dried at ambient pressure to xerogel, (2) solvent exchanged and dried under ambient pressure to ambigels, or (3) supercritically dried to aerogel. Advantageously, the extruded pellets can be dropped directly in a cross-linking bath, where they develop a conformal polymer coating around the skeletal framework of the wet gel via reaction with the cross linker. These pellets can be dried to mechanically robust X-Aerogel.

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Measuring Vapors To Monitor the State of Cure of a Resin

Excess curing time would no longer be needed as margin against uncertainty. A proposed noninvasive method of monitoring the cure path and the state of cure of an epoxy or other resin involves measurement of the concentration(s) of one or more compound(s) in the vaporous effluent emitted during the curing process. The method is based on the following general ideas:

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Templates for Fabricating Nanowire/Nanoconduit-Based Devices

Prior templating processes are being extended to finer spatial resolutions. An effort is underway to develop processes for making templates that could be used as deposition molds and etching masks in the fabrication of devices containing arrays of nanowires and/or nanoconduits. Examples of such devices include thermoelectric devices, nerve guidance scaffolds for nerve repair, photonic-band-gap devices, filters for trapping microscopic particles suspended in liquids, microfluidic devices, and size-selective chemical sensors. The technology is an extension of previous work conducted by JPL, UCSD (University of California, San Diego), and Paradigm Optics Inc., which developed a process to fabricate macroporous scaffolds for spinal-cord repair.

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Repairing Chipped Silicide Coatings on Refractory Metal Substrates

Two methods have been demonstrated to be feasible. The space shuttle orbiter’s reaction control system (RCS) is a series of small thrusters that use hypergolic fuels to orient the orbiter in space. The RCS thrusters are constructed from a special niobium-based alloy — the C-103. This alloy retains excellent mechanical properties from cryogenic temperature all the way up to 2,500 °F (1,370 °C). Despite its excellent, high-temperature properties, C-103 is susceptible to rapid oxidation at elevated temperatures. Were the naked C-103 alloy exposed to the operational thruster environment, it would rapidly oxidize, at least losing all of its structural integrity, or, at worst, rapidly “burning.” Either failure would be catastrophic. To prevent this rapid oxidation during thruster firing, the RCS thrusters are coated with a silicide-based protective coating — the R512a. Over time, this protective coating becomes weathered and begins to develop chips. Launch Commit Criteria limit the diameter and depth of an acceptable pit; otherwise, the thruster must be removed from the orbiter — a very costly, time-consuming procedure. The authors have developed two methods to repair damaged R512a coatings on C-103.

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Simplified Fabrication of Helical Copper Antennas

From concept to working prototype takes just a few hours. A simplified technique has been devised for fabricating helical antennas for use in experiments on radio-frequency generation and acceleration of plasmas. These antennas are typically made of copper (for electrical conductivity) and must have a specific helical shape and precise diameter.

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Submarine Design Certified on FEA and Sensor Testing

The American Bureau of Shipping certified a submarine solely on the basis of finite element analysis (FEA) and strain sensor testing. Submarine design typically follows American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) code, which establishes properties such as hull thickness, frame stiffness, and porthole and hatch design. During certification, ABS evaluates whether a design follows the relevant codes and then certifies it or not on that basis. The design of a deep-diving submarine was so unique that some ABS rules could not be adhered to.

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Attaching Thermocouples by Peening or Crimping

These techniques are simple, effective, and minimally invasive. Two simple, effective techniques for attaching thermocouples to metal substrates have been devised for high- temperature applications in which attachment by such conventional means as welding, screws, epoxy, or tape would not be effective. The techniques have been used successfully to attach 0.005-in. (0.127-mm)-diameter type-S thermocouples to substrates of niobium alloy C-103 and stainless steel 416 for measuring temperatures up to 2,600 °F (1,427 °C). The techniques are equally applicable to other thermocouple and substrate materials.

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