The physical properties of nanocomposites depend significantly on the shape and distribution of the particles in the matrix. Measurement of the resulting mechanical and electrical properties is currently only possible after the material has been produced. The manufacturing process and parameters also have a significant influence on the properties of the composite.
A "trial and error" approach to material development is often adopted: using different process parameters a variety of compounds and composites are manufactured and subsequently analysed. This approach can be very expensive, particularly where highly functional nanoparticles are used. An additional problem in the nanocomposites sector is the production of reject material, which, due to the high quality requirements, can be up to 100%.
The European collaborative project "NanoOnSpect" aims to solve these problems in the production of polymer nanocomposites:
Using various sensor-based measurement and characterisation methods, an online measurement unit will be developed for compounding processes. The data obtained will be integrated into the database of an expert system and further processed in an artificial neural network. Information from this network will be fed back into the processing equipment, and the manufacturing process will be adapted as necessary. This will allow processes such as the formation of a nanoparticle network or the dispersion of particles in the matrix to be optimised during production, and the melt to be characterised before it exits the processing equipment. A new compounding technology with a much broader spectrum in the area of particle dispersion will help ensure that nanocomposites with significantly improved properties and lower development costs will enter the market from 2015 onwards.
Coordinated by the company Gneuß Kunststofftechnik and the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology in Germany, seven small and medium-sized enterprises, two industrial associations and three research institutions will be working to implement the new technology.
NanoOnSpect has received funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7-NMP-2010-SME-4) under grant agreement number 263406.
Carolyn Fisher | Fraunhofer-Institut
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