This SBIR addresses the NASA subtopic Z3.03, Development of Advanced Joining Technologies. Humanity’s future in space requires technologies that enable long-duration, long-endurance missions to support human exploration and habitation. Essential to this goal is servicing, assembly, and manufacturing outside of earth’s gravity. Upon completion of the proposed work, Temper hopes to provide proof of concept of a fast, low-energy and reliable method for welding thermoplastic composites both on Earth and on-orbit. Designs for robotic end effectors to automate the process will also be developed.
While able to melt, re-solidify and weld like metals, thermoplastic composites have a higher strength-to-weight ratio and better thermostability. However, reliably joining thermoplastic components has proved difficult and costly. The work proposed in this SBIR will fulfil the objectives of performing prototype welding PEEK thermoplastic composites, validation of welded flat panels and tubular joints, identifying design concepts for robotic end effectors, and development of a method for manual repairs.
Temper has developed a Smart Susceptor alloy that controls induction heating to weld thermoplastic composites without the risk of softening, overheating, or deforming the components. This alloy is drawn into wires and fabricated into a weld tape for placement between the materials to be bonded. Utilizing fast and energy-efficient induction heating through alternating magnetic fields, once the Smart Susceptor reaches its Curie temperature, the metal alloy becomes non-magnetic and induction heating stops. Only light pressure (10 psi) is needed to comingle the melted resin and form the weld.
Controlled heating can be set for any length of time and cool-down or tempering profiles can be created to control the microstructure of the thermoplastic resin. This technology can be coupled with additive manufacturing so any type of thermoplastic component can be fabricated and assembled on-orbit.
Welding of thermoplastic composites has applicability across several of NASA’s planned missions. As Artemis plans for the construction of high value structures such as habitat modules, trusses, and solar arrays, space-based welding supports its mission goals.
In addition to on-orbit manufacturing, repairs can be made to thermoplastics to increase the safety and longevity of equipment currently in space.
This technology can also be utilized pre-launch to manufacture light-weight components for launch system.
Smart Susceptor welding technology has commercial applications in the aerospace, defense, wind energy and automotive markets. The technology provides a thermoplastic composite equivalent to spot and seam welding of metals currently used in industry. As lightweighting initiatives and use of thermoplastic composites continue to spread, the applications of this technology will continue to grow.