A project designs extinguishers with new materials that improve their current properties
FGUSAL/DICYT A project of the Higher Polytechnic School of Zamora is trying to launch into the market a new generation of extinguishers, manufactured with a material that makes them less heavy and in general improves their properties, for example, against corrosion. The researchers believe that it has great commercial possibilities.
In fact, the project was the result of the collaboration of the university with an extinguisher company. "We saw that within the world of pressure vessels there could be new possibilities," says Roberto José García Martín, a researcher at the Department of Mechanical Engineering. In particular, the new materials offer many options to engineers, as they can provide valuable properties. In this case, greater lightness or less deterioration could open new product lines and other markets.
Traditionally, pressure vessels are made of metals, which, besides being very well known, are cheap. However, "they have many problems", mainly, that "they are very heavy materials and are prone to corrosion".
That is why researchers at Campus Viriato began a search for alternatives and looked at the composites, "fibers embedded in resins". The best known are glass and carbon fibers, but there are other possibilities. For this project, Kevlar, also embedded in a resin, was the best suited for price and properties.
To develop the research, "we follow the pattern of modern engineering, in which 90% of the work is done in the design phase," says Roberto García. Thus, they used CAD programs to model the geometries, but above all CAE (Computer-Aided Engineering) computer-aided engineering programs. "We make models that are validated through experimentation, we try to predict the product's behavior before manufacturing it," he explains. In this case, it is a composite material and, therefore, very complex, so its behavior depends on many variables, but this software allows to calculate all the variables.
Finally, "when we have a model that seems to work, we validate it by making prototypes", generally on a small scale, for example, the size of a cyclist's water can. If all goes well, that validation is repeated in an industrial model that already has the scale of conventional extinguishers.
The researchers have been able to finance their proposal thanks to the call of Concept Tests of the General Foundation of the University of Salamanca, within the TCUE program of the Castilla y León Regional Government, co-financed with FEDER funds. The next step is to put it on the market given the advantages it presents.
"The differences are substantial, mainly due to the weight, which is a very important factor, not only in terms of handling the extinguisher but also for logistics. The factory we collaborate with sends its production to the north of Europe and that has a cost ", comments the professor of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
The new materials also offer much more resistance to corrosion than the steel that is commonly used. "Conventional extinguishers have the problem that they have to be painted frequently and even then they tend to corrode and it is necessary to replace them," he says.
In addition, the new design has different mechanical properties. "We can pressurize to higher pressures, that means having more content in the same volume and that is also important," he adds.
Since the beginning of the project, its promoters have thought that it has many commercial possibilities although in principle the manufacture of extinguishers in this way is more expensive than the conventional one. "It is not a cheap product because it is made of a material that does not have a massive use and it is difficult to compete with steel prices, but there are great possibilities in the market," he says.
For example, lightness is a very appreciated factor. "You have to manipulate an element that is heavy in an emergency situation, so often is not used and can even cause injuries in those situations or to those who are responsible for maintenance," says the expert.
In addition, it opens new markets, such as maritime. "They make pressure vessels with stainless steel, but they really end up rusting because of the chlorides, which abound in the sea; instead, our product can compete. "
This project is closely related to another one from the Superior Polytechnic School of Ávila. Researchers have taken advantage of these synergies at the University of Salamanca to develop a specific photogrammetry system that detects deformations in the material of these new extinguishers.