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The “Ins & Outs” of Carbon Fiber, Composite Polymer Parts in Critical Industrial & Manufacturing Applications

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Manufacturing has grown tremendously over the last few decades, with worker output per hour increasing 2.5 times since 1987 and productivity estimated at about 1.7 times higher, says the National Association of Manufacturers. The global economy is said to be experiencing reinvestment in manufacturing and trade, with a resurgence in the U.S., China, and other countries. China remains at the top; however, the U.S. can take this spot if they focus on transformative manufacturing technologies within their products and processes. 

Due to increased competition, manufacturers need to address even higher demands. The cost of equipment is often a major investment; machines must be reliable and able to work on a consistent schedule, often 24/7. Failure can be costly, with just one estimate of downtime in the manufacturing industry at almost $650 billion every year, according to the International Society of Automation. 

Even the smallest parts can make THE difference in creating long-term successful customer relationships and equipment experience. Critical parts such as composite bearings are a perfect example since they need to run continuously to avoid misalignment of presses or drop hammers in extrusion and forging equipment. Metallic plain bearings require a huge amount of grease or oil to keep them lubricated, which poses a challenge as the excess can build up on machines, get on work pieces, and create unsafe environments. In high-demand industrial applications such as scrap shears, knife gap adjustments, and coiling mandrels for steel and aluminum rolling mills, bearings are susceptible to higher wear, which leads to them being changed out more frequently. Finally, bushings used in difficult to access locations or in hot, hostile, environments can wear quickly if proper materials are not used or they are not adequately lubricated, causing unscheduled downtime. 

The “Make” of a Material: Composite “Kryptonite” 

Industrial bearings, bushings and wear liners can be made of different types of materials; bronze being one of the more regularly used. The softer metal acts as a sacrificial element that will break down before mating parts on big, expensive machinery, helping to leave equipment intact.  However, a downside with metal is that these parts need to be constantly and consistently lubricated, or machinery could freeze up. Too much grease, and it can get into moving parts, onto products, and make for unsafe working conditions. Too little, and equipment can freeze causing downstream problems. 

Carbon fiber, composite bearings and bushings are on the rise as an alternative to bronze. These high-performance polymers offer high strength and can address high temperatures without requiring lubrication. Carbon fiber itself is very lightweight but five-times stronger than steel and twice as stiff, making it suitable for many manufactured material parts.  The polymer material is often recommended by engineers and designers such as Saint-Gobain HyComp, LLC, an advanced manufacturer of thermoplastics and engineered composite polymers in Cleveland, Ohio. When mixing carbon or glass fiber, and graphite into a high-performance resin, Saint-Gobain HyComp chemists discovered that these materials were often stronger than metal and worked well in industrial applications—in fact they were referred to as “kryptonite” by one aluminum extrusion representative due to their invincibility. 

Founded in 1986, Saint-Gobain HyComp initially used their composite materials in wide-scale aerospace and niche areas worldwide. The company successfully leveraged a high strength to low weight ratio polyimide resin system developed by NASA for aggressive space applications that can run constantly at 600° F (316°C) with no lubrication and without breaking down. When HyComp was acquired by Saint-Gobain Seals in March 2018, their composite materials complemented Saint-Gobain Seals’ high-performance sealing and polymer offerings for high temperature, high load materials not only for space but also industrial applications. 

 
The Composite Material Difference: Advanced Solutions For Critical Industrial Applications 

Saint-Gobain HyComp’s proprietary low wear composites for industrial applications extend service life and eliminate lubrication requirements in wear pads, seals, bearings, brackets, insulators and more. These materials are included in their WearComp®, FiberComp® and H310™ product lines. 

The WearComp® product is a blend of a high-temperature polymer and one-inch chopped carbon fiber that provides a low coefficient of friction, outstanding mechanical strength and wear resistance at temperatures up to 600°F (316°C). It is Saint-Gobain HyComp’s most often used material in industrial applications. Uses include heavy, slower-moving applications in metal processing such as in forging and extrusion equipment in dividing, pass line adjustment and side-trimming shears, and chock and track liners. 

One example of its use is to ensure a high surface quality in ramp or wedge surfaces in mandrel liners in rolling mills used to coil steel. WearComp® bearings can provide an advantage over bronze in these environments where force and temperature can make it difficult to keep parts lubricated, and bronze may get hot and dry, causing it to jam, coils to get stuck on the mandrel and operation to halt. 

Other advantages of WearComp® carbon fiber composite bearings include:

  • Up to ten times the service life of bronze
  • Self-lubrication to help reduce cost, prevent product contamination, and address 5S cleanliness
  • Zero creep, excellent dimensional stability, high-impact resistance
  • Able to operate continuously at 600°F (316°C) and at spikes to 1000°F (538°C)

The FibreComp® product is Saint-Gobain HyComp’s high-temperature polymer, milled carbon fiber and graphite blend. It offers the lowest coefficient of friction, highest PV value (120,000 psi*sf/min), and wear resistance at high temperatures of up to 600°F (316°C) . It is ideal for high-speed, medium load, low impact applications, such as for use in manifolds for high-volume beverage can making equipment and guide rings actuation. It can also often serve as a lower-cost alternative to other bearing grade composite materials in its performance class. 

The H310™ product is an aerospace-grade blend of high-temperature thermoset polymer and one-inch chopped carbon fiber. It has the highest strength of the Saint-Gobain HyComp materials at temperatures up to 600°F (316°C)

 
On the Factory Floor: Finding Solutions & Guaranteeing Quality 

In addition to complementing Saint-Gobain Seals’ offerings and working in many of the same industries, Saint-Gobain HyComp also has taken a solution-based approach with customers from day one. Their engineers are committed to increasing value through advanced technology, competitive pricing and customer service. The company works closely with maintenance managers at the plant level and design engineers at OEMs to assess problems and potential materials to address them, design parts and consider mold tooling options and manufacturing to co-design the best solutions. Additionally, Saint-Gobain HyComp offers injection, compression, and transfer molding and precision machining, assembly, stock shape tooling for prototypes and more.  

Consider the following example illustrating Saint-Gobain HyComp’s solution-based approach. A forging industry manufacturer came to Saint-Gobain HyComp to address recent failures with a large, 34 inch bronze bearing on its rotary forge manipulator, a key machine designed to hold and turn the work piece while the die presses recrystallize the metal and make it stronger. The OEM’s proposed solution was to try the next best grade of bronze material. However that failed within a few months. The customer next approached a local bearing company for advice; they recommended talking with Saint-Gobain HyComp. When the customer asked the OEM again about exploring other options aside from bronze, the OEM still suggested using an even higher grade of bronze. Despite this recommendation, the customer decided to explore composites and told the OEM that it expected it to pay for the materials under warranty if it did work. 

Saint-Gobain HyComp went to the customer’s location and after a thorough examination of the machine the team recommended its strongest composite, H310™ material. With the large size of the bearing and an existing mold for that size and shape not already available, Saint-Gobain HyComp decided to design a custom mold tool that combined the inside bearing surface and the flanged thrust surface into one piece, which reinforced the part for additional strength, and then finish machined the parts in a custom fixture designed from a spare application housing. The parts were then shipped to the customer and installed. The machine was turned on, and after one slight modification, the parts, which had a target service life of only one year, continued to run for over two years.  Since that time, additional orders have been placed for the customer from the OEM. 

Similar to Saint-Gobain Seals, Saint-Gobain HyComp shares a commitment to quality. It operates from a fully-accredited ISO 9001 and AS 9100D facility and has implemented a fully-operational test laboratory and quality clinic to ensure the highest standards and continuous improvements. Full-service capabilities include in-process verification to control variation via SPC (Statistical Process Control). In-house equipment includes CMM capabilities, optical comparators, height gauges, as well as precision hand gauges. 

Additionally, to be able to provide parts in aerospace, Saint-Gobain HyComp must maintain AS 9100 Rev D and PPAP (Production Part Approval Process) certification, as well as meet quality metrics and certification of each aerospace OEM. Customers in manufacturing benefit from this aerospace-level quality and world-class service that includes on-time delivery and quick response to any potential issues. 

 

With competition on the rise in industrial and manufacturing, composite polymer bearings, wear liners and bushings can offer huge advantages, often many times over their investment, in critical applications for these growing industries. Saint-Gobain HyComp specializes in manufacturing innovative materials and parts to address complex industrial challenges. Since its founding over 30 years ago, it has evolved into a versatile, solutions-based, leader in high-performance thermoplastic and thermoset composites. From its beginnings in Cleveland where it maintains a strong local presence, it has established a long, proven history of international reach to give manufacturers worldwide a competitive edge. 

Would you like to discover how carbon fiber, reinforced composite polymers could be a precise fit for your challenging application?  Contact us today to learn how these small, critical parts extend the life and performance of complex manufacturing machinery with innovative composite materials.

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