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Centre of Excellence and Technology Centres
Development and testing begin in our Centre of Excellence (CoE) or a Technology Centre. Our CoE in the UK, features laboratory equipment for analytical work and four pilot lines for developing the production process for high temperature, high performance fibres up to operational readiness. At the stage of operations readiness, we partner with the Operational Transition and Readiness teams to complete the hand-off for total production.

The CoE purpose-built test furnace allows for testing fire protection materials or measuring different furnace lining construction performance under 100% realistic conditions.

From our purpose-built test furnace, to chemical analysis, to thermal conductivity capabilities, we also provide other ASTM and industry required tests for our portfolio of fibres, refractory and microporous products and systems.

Purpose-Built Furnace
The ability to perform tests 'in-house' brings expertise and product development more rapidly than could be achieved by only using external laboratories. For example, our CoE and a number of Technology Centres have gas-fired furnaces with the ability to test all forms of furnace wall or roof construction, and to measure resulting cold face temperatures. We also have the fast heating capability required for performing the three standard fire tests - cellulosic, hydrocarbon, and tunnel fires up to 1350°C RWS.

Chemical Analysis (XRF & XRD)
New state of the art X-ray instrumentation enables us to produce a rapid analysis of chemical compositions and crystal structures.

Thermal Conductivity
Thermal conductivity measurement is fundamental to the development of all insulation materials. For that reason, our Centre of Excellence (CoE) developed an advanced version of the ASTM C201 thermal conductivity measurement system.

This is used on a routine basis for testing the properties of all refractory insulation materials. This design has been so successful that we have manufactured additional units to be located at our Technology Centres around the world.

Our microporous Technology Centre uses advanced capabilities for industry-specific thermal conductivity testing in aerospace, marine and other industrial applications.

Mechanical Testing
Mechanical testing facilities are available to test samples in tension and compression, at room temperature or when heated in a furnace. Dilatometry is also used on a regular basis.

Solubility Testing
We continue to be the pioneers in bio-soluble fibre products. Of the many developments required to support this programme, Thermal Ceramics R&D developed both static and dynamic solubility tests, which are important tools used in the development of all new fibres.

Static Solubility
This is a quick and simple test that is used to screen candidate fibre compositions, and look at unknown fibres from the field. A small sample of fibre is held at 37°C (body temperature) for 24hrs in a simulated body fluid. The solution is then decanted and analysed for elements that have been leached from the fibre. The more biopersistent the fibre, the higher the level of materials leached from the fibre sample. The results are recorded as parts per million (ppm) in the solution.

Dynamic Flow Test
This is a long term, carefully controlled test that establishes more accurately the long-term solubility of a fibre, most commonly for testing commercially available fibres or candidates for commercialisation. This test is also conducted at 37°C, but the test lasts for 3 weeks.

In this test, the same simulated body fluid is pumped very slowly over a fibre sample that has been normalised to its surface area. Thus, fresh solution is always presented to the sample. The solution is collected and analysed twice weekly for the concentration of elements leached from the fibre sample. This allows us to have a known surface area, known flow rate and known leachate concentration. All these components are put together to give a dissolution rate in ng/cm²hr (which only depends upon the fibre composition). This is a crucial measurement for comparing fibre types. In addition, the test allows us to record if the dissolution of the sample is uniform over the full 3-week period. This is especially important for a low biopersistent fibre. This dissolution rate is a measure of the solubility of the fibre.

The two tests are an essential component in developing low biopersistent fibres (LBP).

Microscopy
The materials used in creating thermal insulation depend on fine fibres and minute pores, to give them their special insulating characteristics. R&D operates both electron and optical microscopy and in both cases, automated image analysis is available to analyse fibres and pores. We also provide key expertise by counting the fibres to meet the World Health Organization Protocol.

Optical Microscopy
The department is equipped with a Malvern Instruments system, that uses a PC controlled optical microscope with an automated sample stage. This instrument can be set to acquire tens of thousands of images of particles (usually fibres) from a specific sample. The images are then analysed using a pre-programmed routine to accurately measure the size distribution of the particles. The instrument can also be used as a conventional optical microscope to examine samples on a micron scale.

Electron Microscopy
We use a Topcon Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) to examine samples down to a nanometer scale. The high resolution allows observations to be made of features on the surface of fibres. This is particularly useful to aid understanding of the thermal history and reactivity of a sample.

The electron microscope has the capacity to automatically collect images for measurement of particle dimension on a smaller scale than the optical microscope. In addition to imaging, the SEM also has an Energy Dispersive X-ray (EDX) analysis capability, allowing the measurement of the chemical composition of a particular region (or map of a larger area) of a sample to a resolution of around 1 micron.

Advanced Fibre Development
Our Centre of Excellence (CoE) is well equipped to create the next generation of fibre products. Apart from the laboratory facilities, the CoE is equipped with four pilot lines allowing all types of fibre manufacturing to be simulated and scaled up during development, without the need to disrupt production.