RPI mechanical engineering doctoral students Casey Hoffman and Jaron Kuppers won in the competition for their Specialised Elastomeric Tooling (SET) process. The SET process offers a new method for curing advanced composites, which is said to be significantly less expensive and requires 500-1000 times less energy than autoclave curing.

The SET process involves curing a composite laminate by pressing the material between heated, rubber-lined moulds. Heating occurs quickly because the composite is in direct contact with the tool. The shape of the rubber mould half is derived computationally using 3D computer modelling and simulations.

The students claim that the SET process results in up to a 1000-fold energy saving over an autoclave and eliminates the need for expensive consumable materials. The time required to prepare a composite part for curing in an autoclave is a few hours, while it takes less than 10 minutes to perform the preparation on a SET system.

The research is sponsored by Kintz Plastics Inc in Howes Cave, New York, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

The competition, held in mid-October at the 2010 ASME International Manufacturing Science and Engineering Conference in Erie, Pennsylvania., was established in 1995 and is among the leading US manufacturing and design competitions for undergraduate and graduate students.