Taking prepreg where no prepreg has gone before
5th July 2012, Mariana Trench, Western Pacific Ocean
Prepregs produced by Umeco Structural materials have been used by Australian composites parts manufacturer LSM Advanced Composites Pty Ltd. (LSM) on the Deepsea Challenger, a pioneering submersible which completed a record-breaking solo dive to the deepest place on Earth - the Mariana Trench - on the 26th March 2012.
The Deepsea Challenge expedition is part of a joint scientific project from explorer and filmmaker James Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research and exploration (www.deepseachallenge.com).
Built and designed in Sydney by research and design company Acheron Project Pty Ltd. and the design technicians at Design + Industry respectively, the Deepsea Challenger was purpose-built to reach the Pacific Ocean’s deepest point, after roughly two hours of descent from the surface.
LSM was approached by the design and build team to manufacture the carbon fibre internal lining of the Pilot Sphere, the pilot’s home in the submersible. The ‘home’, which measures 43 inches in diameter, is filled with electronics and life-support equipment. It is so small that the pilot’s legs are tightly bent and he can barely move his arms. In comparison, the overall length of the Deepsea Challenger is similar to that of a stretched limousine.
Umeco’s prepregs, sourced to a tight delivery schedule through Umeco’s Australian agent Lavender CE Pty Ltd., were chosen because of the company’s ability to supply specialised prepregs, and to tight lead-times – regardless of geographical location.
Customised, FAA-approved civil aircraft interiors pregregs were chosen because of their low fire/smoke/toxicity and low heat release characteristics, a requirement which formed part of the designer’s safety specification.
But Lavender supplied more than just prepreg. They assisted LSM in their tooling design and developed the flat patterns of the component plies for CNC cutting using their in-house 3D laminate software, which is one of Lavender’s key services to their customers.
The impressive craft was piloted by Cameron in his voyage down to the Mariana Trench, in the Western Pacific Ocean – near the Philippines. The voyage, the first of its kind in over 50 years, and ensuing scientific sample analysis will give mankind a better understanding of the least explored environment on Earth.
Following the successful venture into the darkest depths of the ocean – at 6.8 miles, Umeco says it can state categorically that its material has been ‘where no prepreg has gone before’ and that Star Trek enthusiasts may recollect a similar phrase.
LSM stated: “Meeting the stringent delivery schedule was facilitated with valuable assistance from Umeco Structural materials and their agent, Lavender CE. We valued Umeco’s and Lavender’s knowledge of materials, both of which were particularly helpful with customising and supplying the specialised carbon fibre prepregs needed for this job. This was required to meet strict specifications for Mr. Cameron’s safety within the Pilot Sphere.”
Author: Billy Hunter