Robert Stratton, the founder and vice president of business development for Raptor Resins, established a relationship with UT/ORNL Governor’s Chair in Advanced Composites and Manufacturing Professor Uday Vaidya while working on technology projects over the years.
Vaidya mentioned to Stratton that he thought Raptor Resins, an aerospace company specializing in high-temperature resin solutions located in Celina, Tennessee, would be a perfect candidate for RevV, which is a voucher program for Tennessee companies that offsets the costs of working with leading-edge experts in advanced research facilities to solve complex manufacturing challenges in product development and process innovation.
The State of Tennessee sponsors the program to ensure Tennessee manufacturers maintain a competitive advantage in the global marketplace by providing access to expertise and facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee. UT and ORNL have joint oversight of the RevV program.
Vaidya collaborated with Stratton to develop a RevV proposal and it received funding.
Raptor Resins worked with UT to develop and characterize cyanate ester resin that is a niche high temperature thermoset resin used for aerospace and space applications. UT systematically evaluated various cyanate ester formulations made by Raptor Resins to generate the thermal and mechanical data for the variants. The data provided by UT helped Raptor Resins win a follow-on program through the Office of Naval Research for radome repair.
“We don’t have all the testing and lab equipment that the university does. We don’t have the resources, so it gives us access and ability to get some very specialized testing done that we couldn’t do in-house,” Stratton said. “It’s not something I could afford to go out and buy, so it’s extremely helpful.”
UT also successfully used the cyanate ester in a carbon fiber prepreg format to use as finish layers for 3D-printed tooling on the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) printer. The BAAM-printed material produces surface roughness due to bead formation. The goal was to minimize or eliminate machining the 3D-printed surface beads and use the Raptor cyanate esters prepreg as surface layers and obtain a smooth finish. Pre-preg is like a fitted sheet on a mattress that smooths out the unevenness of the mattress beneath it. The prepreg is placed on the BAAM printed part. After heat, vacuum, and pressure is applied, the finished part has a smooth appearance, without need for post-machining.
The cyanate ester resin work has been extended to high temperature carbon fiber composite laminate studies and for processing of carbon/carbon composites with cyanate ester as the precursor resin with carbon fabric of different architectures.
Four UT students have contributed to work on the project with Raptor Resins, including one student who recently won a grant for starting his own company.
“The fact that the industry values this directly and looks to us to collaborate and takes advantage of Tennessee’s programs is really a benefit to both sides,” Vaidya said of RevV. “It’s helping industry for sure, but at the same time there is strong potential for students at UT to gain experience working within the industry and understand the mindset of the companies. There are so many values in that regard.”
Because of the work done with Raptor Resins through RevV, UT has connected with several other companies across the country. In the last two years, UT has worked with Vision Wheel, Mussel Polymer, and Lenzing Lyocell to name a few.
“One small relationship like that has led to so many compounding opportunities that are very valuable,” Vaidya said. “UT has become a known name with these companies to work with us and to potentially hire some of our graduating students. They are getting picked up in a hurry these days.”
Raptor Resins has seen a similar impact. Stratton has fostered connections with other Tennessee-based companies and Raptor Resins has several ongoing research projects with UT.
“The relationship with UT has benefited our company, the university and the students,” Stratton said. “I think it has a been a good win-win all around. I really hope it continues into the future.”
Rhiannon Potkey (865-974-0683, email@example.com)