Conor is a Commercialisation Researcher with the I-Form Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. He is based in University College Dublin and joined I-Form in August 2020 after spending two years working in the composites industry. Conor completed his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering in UCD and followed this up with a part-time Masters of Engineering Science research degree. His thesis is titled ‘An investigation of composite fabrication using autoclave and out-of-autoclave processing’. He has also worked as a Research Assistant with the Surface Engineering research group in UCD, working on a novel plasma pre-treatment process for composite materials. During this time, Conor developed an interest in how new technologies for composite processing and joining can help to reduce manufacturing costs and accelerate industry changeover from traditional materials (e.g. metals, timber) to advanced lightweight composites.
Conor’s project within I-Form is titled ‘Atmospheric plasma treatment of fibre reinforced composites for improved post-bonding mechanical strength’. This focuses on a newly developed plasma treatment technique that can be used to remove the weak surface layer on fibre reinforced composites which usually inhibits the strength of parts that are bonded together with adhesive. Dirt and contaminants from handling can also be removed by this process. This plasma pre-treatment can improve bond strength and repeatability, reduce reject parts, simplify production lines, reduce the need for manual labour and remove the need for metal fasteners (nuts and bolts). This last benefit is possibly the most important as the strength-to-weight ratio of composites is often their biggest advantage over metals. The plasma technology also has potential applications for spacecraft parts and this can help to grow Ireland’s reputation in the European Space Agency.
The overall objective of this project is to carry out atmospheric plasma treatments of fibre reinforced composites in order to achieve enhanced mechanical strength when the composites are subsequently bonded. The plasma treatments will be carried out using an air atmospheric plasma jet system attached to a 6-axis robot. After the plasma treatment, the bonding of the composites to other composites using adhesives will be investigated. The plasma treated composited surface will be investigated to examine its morphology (microscopy & SEM), surface energy (contact angle measurement), surface chemistry (infra-red spectroscopy and XPS), as well as mechanical testing (SLS and DCB). The plasma treated parts will be benchmarked against the current state of the art in industry which includes practices such as mechanical abrasion and solvent wiping. Once plasma treatment parameters have been optimised for a client’s specific material, follow on activities will look at treating complex 3D parts with real industrial applications.
This research project will be carried out in conjunction with PlasmaBound Ltd. The company has developed a Controlled Polymer Ablation (CPA) technology, which facilitates the structural adhesive joining of lightweight materials, namely carbon and glass fibre reinforced composites. The research work will be carried out both in the UCD Engineering facilities and PlasmaBound’s laboratory in NovaUCD.