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Florida Tech Lab Explores Stronger, Safer Parts

Center for Advanced Coatings Finds Solutions to Industry Issues, Offers Research Assistance

MELBOURNE, FLA. — Most people take for granted the “why” of how critical pieces of daily life work—from lawnmower blades to turbine engine parts. Not so at Florida Tech’s unique Center for Advanced Coatings, where making everyday things stronger, safer and more efficient is the mission.

The research group formerly known as the National Center for Hydrogen Research has reorganized into a new research group, the Center for Advanced Coatings. Through the development and testing of thermal barrier coatings, researchers explore ways to make parts work better and last longer. The three primary laboratories for this research are the Plasma Spray Thermal Lab, the High Heat Flux Laser Test Lab, and the Material Science Analysis Lab, all located at the Florida Tech Applied Research Lab in Melbourne.

Mary Helen McCay, left, is the director of research and principle investigator. She is joined by Pei-Feng Hsu, co-director, Ilya Mingareev, assistant professor, Frank Accornero, thermal spray specialist, Edward Croy, laser specialist, and Yingsang Wu, program coordinator.

“It is unique in our nation to have a lab that provides all these services in one location,” said McCay.

Launched in part with equipment donated by Siemens, the lab is seeking new industry partners to support.

“We have a range of services we can offer,” McCay said. Those include:

  • Plasma spray
  • Laser processing and optics
  • Metallurgical and failure analysis
  • Protective coatings
  • Industrial robotics
  • Training

McCay and her colleagues are already working with groups including Rolls-Royce and Siemens Corp., and recently began collaborating with Larsen Motorsports on ways to improve the function of their jet dragsters.

“The possibilities are almost endless,” McCay added.

For example, in the thermal lab, researchers create a specialized environment to apply and then test various coatings in extreme heat.

The first stage of testing occurs in the Plasma Spray Thermal Lab in a self-contained booth, where an industrial-sized, bright orange plasma spray gun melts a ceramic powder onto test material at high speed. Nitrogen and argon gases are joined with hydrogen and helium, which increase the heat and velocity of the plasma.

After the test material is coated, it moves down the hall to the High Heat Flux Laser Test Lab. Using a high-powered laser, the test material is heated to extreme temperatures from above and cooled from below with circulating air. A network of thermal sensors, cameras and computers collects data as the material is pushed to temperatures above 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

McCay, who holds a Ph.D. in Metallurgical Engineering and was a decorated NASA engineer early in her career, said this type of testing is ideal for turbine blades that might be used in industrial equipment, or even on airplanes. But there are many other applications as well, from automobiles to prosthetics to shipbuilding.

“These critical services are available right here on the Space Coast,” McCay said. “We welcome the opportunity to talk with local companies, no matter the size, about ways in which this unique research group can do testing that would assist them in their business.”

You can read more about the Center for Advanced Coatings or seek a consultation by visiting their Web site at https://research.fit.edu/coatings/.

The control booth for the High Heat Flux Laser Test Lab at Florida Tech’s Center for Advanced Coatings.

NOTE: LAB VIDEO AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST.

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