Engineering firm MMS Technology has been involved in a number of new approaches related to the design, development and production of composite materials.
In January this year the first unit of Halley VI, the new British scientific research centre in Antarctica was installed. MMS manufactured the cladding and glazing of the panels for the new base.
In order to withstand the environmental as well as the structural loading on the panels, finite element models of the panels were generated, and a number of different materials were investigated for suitability from a structural, manufacturability and cost point of view.
It was decided that the panels would consist entirely of composite materials. The sandwich panels consist of a thick foam core, an inner shear web structure and two glass fibre skins on each side, vacuum infused for a higher quality panel.
MMS Technology director Heinrich Bauermeister tells Engineering News that there are many advantages to using composite material to build the panels. "The composite materials are very effective in keeping out extreme weather conditions, which makes it an ideal choice in a location like Antarctica," he comments.
Bauermeister adds that composite materials are significantly lighter than other traditional construction materials. "It is impossible for contractors to build anything on-site in Antarctica. This means that all the materials for the base have to be easily transportable, and as light as possible."
He says that the Halley VI contract necessitated the opening of a new MMS Technology factory in Cape Town as the panels were too big to be transported by road or rail to Cape Town.
The company has been involved in the project for almost two years, and expects to complete the project early next year.
Meanwhile, MMS is also involved in a tender with IST Dynamics for the contract to manufacture the seven antennas required for the second phase of the MeerKAT radio telescope array.
Bauermeister comments that the company has full confidence in its ability to win the next phase of the project. "I believe MMS and IST have good solutions for the project, even though we are up against some strong competition."
This follows after the company completed the construction of South Africa's 15-m diameter experimental demonstrator model (XDM) prototype dish at the Hartebeeshoek radio astronomy observatory, west of Pretoria.
The XDM is the prototype unit for South Africa's MeerKAT radio tele-scope array, and is one of the largest radio astronomy dishes ever constructed as a single unit from composite materials.
Central to the entire programme was the need to keep costs as low as possible, especially on-site construction and integration costs owing to the vast number of antennas to be commissioned as part of MeerKAT.
Stage two will see the erection of seven dishes in the Karoo, in a programme that will run from June this year to the end of 2009.
Fields of expertise
Bauermeister notes that the company has a number of different areas of expertise, which include the design, analysis, prototype development, production, precision measurement, testing and mechanical engineering consulting services in composite materials and other more conventional materials. "MMS is a mechanical engineering firm with a strong basis in composite materials," he says.
MMS Technology has gained extensive experience in the field of vacuum assisted resin transfer products.
MMS's experience in finite element modelling and analysis of systems and designs in composite and conventional materials has won it numerous contracts through the years.
Meanwhile, MMS has been involved in the development of a number of prototypes from mining to defence.
The company also uses high accuracy digital theodolites coupled with computers running computer aided design packages that allow for high accuracy three-dimensional measurement of structures including bearing alignment for such things as paper mill rollers. Using this system, MMS has also carried out the weapons harmonisation of the Rooivalk Attack Helicopter.
To assist in the development of products, MMS also has an in-house rapid prototyping capability.
Bauermeister says that MMS has worked on projects from the design and manufacture of bullet-proof helicopter seating and missile launcher analysis and manufacture, to lightweight rocket launchers and mining equipment.