New innovators: Ceramicx

Infrared energy mapping instrument aimed at the aviation, automotive, plastics and composites industries

Dr Cathal Wilson and Prof Tony Robinson: Herchel machine was named after the man who discovered infrared radiation

Dr Cathal Wilson and Prof Tony Robinson: Herchel machine was named after the man who discovered infrared radiation

 

A west Cork-based company has created a new state of the art device aimed at major industries as diverse as the aviation, automotive and plastics sectors.

Ceramicx is a leading player in the international infrared heating industry. This is no accident. Innovation has underpinned the company’s development since its formation in 1992.

Its latest venture is the Ceramicx Centre for Infrared Innovation set up in November last year. The centre’s first product is a state-of-the-art infrared energy mapping instrument aimed at the aviation, automotive, plastics and composites industries.

The machine was developed in conjunction with thermodynamics specialist Prof Tony Robinson of Trinity College Dublin through an Innovation Partnership at a cost of some €450,000 which was partly funded by Enterprise Ireland. It was launched at the world’s largest plastics trade show in Germany last October.

“We have called the machine the Herschel, after Sir Frederick William Herschel who discovered infrared radiation [IR],” says centre director Cathal Wilson, whose parents founded Ceramicx more than 20 years ago.

“It can be used to evaluate and verify heat work solutions in industry while it will also be invaluable in research settings. It is a highly specialised piece of equipment but, for manufacturing industries that use IR technology, it is a major breakthrough as it can provide a greater understanding of how IR heating elements of all kinds actually perform,” Wilson says.

“The Herchel is the first of its kind in the world and while we will happily build one for anyone who wants it, the way it is working is that our customers are effectively renting time on it and commissioning us to do specific tasks for them.

“For Ceramicx it is both a new stream of income and also a support to our existing business as it allows us to provide more scientific data to customers and to sell them finished systems based on this information.

“Being able to precisely quantify heater performance at the development stage has the potential to save companies a lot of time and money.”

Nearly 100 per cent of Ceramicx’s output is exported to countries such as China, the UK, Germany and the US. A key sector for the company is the automotive industry.

Most recently the company has been working on composites and looking at the possibilities of producing mass volume body panels in carbon fibre materials.

“Put simply, the move towards metals substitution continues to make inroads in the automotive and transport sectors and polymer-based and carbon fibre manufacturing solutions are increasingly taking up the challenge,” Wilson says.”

IR heat work is facilitating moves towards automotive lightweighting, cost reduction and aesthetics.

The processing parameters for such large parts are not simple but they are feasible with the help of the new IR measurement systems such as the Herschel.”

Wilson’s co-researcher at the centre is heat transfer specialist Gerard McGranaghan.

“Where possible we will work with partner universities and research institutes to look at areas such as materials and applications and to publish our findings,” McGranaghan says.

“We have already had experience of a number of university partnerships – with the University of Limerick, the University of Duisburg Essen and the Cork Institute of Technology. We continue to maintain strong ties not only for research and development purposes but also for what they can help us achieve in terms of production improvements within the company,” McGranaghan adds.

– OLIVE KEOGH

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