Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Rigidized Metals as part of a large group of nearly 30 students and faculty from the University at Buffalo interested in prospective projects as part of this new collaborative relationship. This introductory walk through the spotless facility was merely a teaser. We walked passed gigantic presses, rolling out shiny 60” wide sheets of patterned stainless steel. Adapted CNC machines produced a variety of results from ephemeral surface patterns created by an abrasive disk to pressed designs and stamped geometries. Thick green glue flowed through a suspended tube onto 4’x8’ sheets of stainless steel to be adhered to an interesting expanded hexi-comb material to create stiff, light weight laminated panels (used in marine and aerospace applications as well as high quality partitions for bathroom stalls). Meticulously crafted and partially fabricated projects hinted towards future ideas and current artistic applications. All of this complimented by an amazing overhead crane system, painted yellow, that kept the facility moving and the floor plan ever changing
However, once I looked passed the surface of these machines, and the shiny beautiful item that they produced, it became clear that the lifeblood of Rigidized Metals, was the intelligent people who ran and manipulated them rather than the relatively low tech process that these machines carry out.
Thursday mornings visit was about just that, meeting some of the intelligence behind this massive operation. David J, Kukulka, Ph.D., P.E. (“Dr. Dave”) is the Director of Engineering and Development and Dan Hellwig (might as well be called Dr. Dan, or the “Glue Doctor”) is the Product Development Manager. These are the people creating innovative applications for the tried and true rigidizing process.
A perfect example of this was Dave’s recognition that a rigidized tube would dramatically (400%+) improve the heat transfer coefficient by increasing the heat transfer area, increasing fluid turbulence and disturbing the thermal boundary layer; a product being tested under the name Vipertex.
More to come about our sit down with these two gentlemen…