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From walk-in to drop-in—A new twist on outsourced R&D Figure 2. Sample F-coated carbon fabric plate (6 in. x 6 in. x 0.25 in.) after vacuum bagging at 160°C. had a promising new material (Figures 1, 2). The client recently requested a proposal for a Phase II program to scaleup Credit: WJS Concepts LLC polymer synthesis at a "toll producer" and for trial runs in the client's small developmental process line. In addition, an event occurred that demonstrated the advantage of the researcher being on-site. During Trial 3 of the program, the client's sales manager asked the contractor if any of the developed polymer materials could be used to make insulating, fireproof composite panels or bulkheads that would survive up to four hours in a fire and be functional and structural in the "as-cured" state. The contractor confirmed that the materials could perform as requested, noting that ceramic composites will not burn and are as light as glass-fiber or epoxy composites. The developed material would simply convert to ceramic when exposed to fire, but it would emit less smoke and toxins than typical composites. As a result of this conversation, the client used the same initial research to develop prototypes of two products instead of one. Case study 2: Development of low-cost, 250°C (480°F) resin A client wanted a polymer resin that could function for long times at ~50°C above current vinyl ester resins, but with comparable processing parameters and cost (a bit of a stretch!). However, this project is most notable for what it took to begin working at the client's laboratory rather than successful development of the target product. Because of timing constraints, the client wanted to start quickly. Therefore, the contracting researcher did not make a preliminary site visit. After about six weeks of discussion on the scope of work and intellectual property issues, both parties approved the contract. While the contractor was traveling to the client’s site, the company’s laboratory manager found a journal article stating that a component of the proposed resin system was used as a mold release for vinyl ester composites. The manager was concerned that it would affect how the vinyl ester bonded to the fiberglass fabric. Because the company recently had obtained a large order, the manager further worried that testing a new resin in the R&D equipment—which was located next to the production equipment— would be a problem. This caused much consternation to the client. As a result, the contractor walked into the company to begin the work, and, instead, the company leadership immediately engaged the contractor in a lively, three-hour discussion. The final consensus of this discussion was that no work could be done until two plans were written and approved: a plan to make sure there was no crosscontamination; and an experimental operating plan detailing how the materials would be handled, stored, and disposed. The contractor thus had to write the two procedures and obtain approval from the CEO and environmental and health safety manager. As a result, the contractor spent the first two days onsite learning the site’s safety procedures and writing these additional plans. While waiting for approval signoffs, the contractor spent the third day on-site assembling the equipment and laying out the exact formulas to be tested in Trial 1. The client assumed that the contractor would be able to make the resin, optimize its properties, and make test panels in the two days remaining on-site. Besides not being feasible in regards to time, the client further expected the work could be done in a small (18 ft 3 8 ft) room with one 6-ft fumehood and 6 ft of available bench space, with doors locked and no ventilation besides Figure 3. Polymer samples cured at 210°C (clockwise from top left): baseline vinyl ester, best new resin, and secondbest new resin. the hood. In addition, the client no longer wanted the contractor to use any of the test ovens, because they were located next to production equipment. Therefore, the client suddenly had to rush order a 300°C convection oven, which would not arrive for a few days. The contractor synthesized two resins out of the lowest-cost raw materials available in an attempt to meet the verylow cost target (Figure 3). One resin met cure time requirements. Therefore, the contractor convinced the client that it was more time and cost effective to simply evaluate long-term thermal stability of each resin at 250°C before attempting to make a test panel. Both resins failed compared to the client’s baseline vinyl ester—which is why more than one trial is always in the approved plan. The next two visits for Trials 2 and 3 went much more smoothly, because the contractor gained the confidence of management in regards to handling the test materials while protecting the company’s production runs. Ultimately the contractor successfully produced two polymers that met the client’s initial requirements, and the production group had no crosscontamination issues. The client is planning to continue to Phase 2. The concept of research-for-hire seems to work The developing concept of outsourcing the researcher while using in-house facilities has been successful in the first few projects. The following are some of the lessons learned during on-site Credit: WJS Concepts LLC 30 www.ceramics.org | American Ceramic Society Bulletin, Vol. 95, No. 3


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