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Complete Thermal Processing Solutions for the Carbon Fiber Market

Dr. William Stry and Dr. Renee Bagwell, Senior Process Technology Engineers at Harper International talk to AZoM about Complete Thermal Processing Solutions for the Carbon Fiber Market.

How has Harper International worked to become a global leader in complete thermal processing solutions?

Harper has over 90 years of experience in the material processing market. Our namesake, John L. Harper, who patented the first electric kilns and furnaces, saw an opportunity in the early 1900’s to provide controlled atmosphere furnaces to process advanced new materials. Offering precise control of atmosphere and temperature, Harper furnaces quickly became a quality standard among materials processors and the forerunner of many innovations to come.

John Harper and his colleagues went on to invent the first furnace to process nuclear fuels in the 1940’s and the first commercial graphite-element furnace equipment capable of operating at extremely high temperatures under precise atmospheric controls. They were also early partners to the now booming carbon fiber industry.

Today, Harper International is a trusted leader in thermal processing solutions for the growing carbon fiber market and is the only thermal systems provider in the world which has successfully installed a complete process line. Harper also uses its Technology Research Center to develop with its customers customized thermal processing systems for new applications.

What are your key processes and technologies?

Our key processes are thermal processing equipment and integrated controls that range from individual pieces of equipment to full line solutions that include:

  • Furnaces: rotary, slot, graphite, pusher, elevator, mesh belt, induction, and unique furnaces to meet unique processes.
  • Oxidation ovens: single flow, dual flow and tri-flow ovens capable of parallel flow, cross flow and/or down flow.
  • Waste gas management: thermal oxidizers, regenerative thermal oxidizers, heat recovery and energy conservation and the efficient integration of these components into the line.
  • Auxiliary equipment to complete the line: winders, unwinders, surface treatment, dryers, material conveyance, bag houses, feeders and more.

Rotary furnace by Harper International.

Rotary furnace by Harper International.

Harper supplies, engineers and manufactures equipment and full line solutions that have been specially designed and tailored to meet individual client’s processing needs. These needs can be related to temperature ranges, special atmospheres, conveyance of the material, production rates, scaling up, system integration, off-gas waste management or other special needs.

Harper International’s complete lines range from scientific scale to product scale. Can you explain this development process?

There are a lot of new clients to the market place that are unsure if they have a material or process that can compete in the industrial market and is scalable from “beaker” sized to thousands of metric tons per year. Harper is able to offer a scaled system approach that allows them to optimize their OPEX and CAPEX to do development work in stages and proof of concepts for approval of funding for scale ups.  Harper wants to be integral in helping develop these new customers to the market and to do this, Harper developed this scaled approach and line sizes.

Harper International complete lines – Microlines at a workshop.

Harper International complete lines – Microlines at a workshop.

What key parameters are included in all of your complete line systems?

Harper provides thoughtful and efficient integration of all aspects and components of the line from initial design and development to final start-up of the line and processing of the material. For example, our designs provide minimized energy consumption, energy recovery, green design for manufacturing, minimized carbon footprint and optimum product quality and throughput.

What makes your complete lines highly customizable?

Harper’s tradition is to provide each and every customer with their own unique solution to their unique processing needs. Our design approach is to provide modular construction, both for shipping and minimized installation to allow customers to “hit the ground running” within budget and schedule.

Do you have case studies that have challenged and helped develop your complete lines to improve the customization of your technology?

As a rule Harper does not discuss learning’s from customer installations and start-ups. However, at a recent installation at Oak Ridge National Lab challenged Harper to provide an extremely flexible system that would be everything to everybody. As a result, we engineered and installed a system that has four modes of operation in the oxidation ovens. Also, the High Temperature Furnace has a belt installed capable of operating at 2000°C. Harper is not aware of any other manufacturer of high temperature equipment who has similar installations.

What are the main challenges with the complete line systems?

The main challenges are integrating the main unit operations seamlessly, employing energy recovery targets given the large range of precise unit operations and meeting client schedule deadlines that start from the initial RFQ (request for quote) through final commissioning; to achieving full nameplate capacity. Harper is there from beginning to end.

How do you plan to develop your complete line systems?  

Harper’s modular platform designs are developed and are tailored to meet each individual client’s specification and RFQ (request for quote). Harper continually monitors advancements in control, material and manufacturing technologies to continually improve our offerings and designs to be state-of-the-art.

You also have The IgniteTM Program that takes companies through the different stages of production to help enhance this process. Exactly how does this program allow a seamless production process?

The ultimate success of a process development activity can often be influenced by results and decisions made very early in the evaluation process. Through our Ignite Program, Harper partners with our customer to ensure success as they scale up their process operations. The interaction may involve initial feasibility testing of a concept, scaling of a concept to a continuous operation, or engineering studies to determine the most suitable manner to efficiently conduct a specific thermal process.

Later in the development process, it could evaluate pilot scale operations, preparation of test materials for sampling, or construction of pilot equipment for customer use on their own production floor. Our mission is to assist these customers in turning the next generation of material innovations into profitable new markets.

How do you see your products and services evolving over the next decade to suit end-user demands?

Harper’s vision is for higher capacities, lower energy consumption, higher energy recovery, greener design and equipment end of life management using highly recyclable materials (carbon footprint reduction), shorter lead times and higher availability for each piece of equipment.

You presented at the China Composites Exhibition, September 2013. What would you say were the key considerations in the design and scale-up of advanced carbon fiber production lines?

Key considerations included, the client’s desired throughput, properties and plant planned footprint.

Where can we find further information on your services and developments?

Visit Harper’s website at

Further can contact the Inside Sales Team at [email protected] William Stry and Renee Bagwell

About William Stry

Bill Stry, Ph.D., Senior Process Technology Engineer at   Harper International, received his B.S. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from State University of New York at Buffalo (UB).  He is the technical lead on many of Harper’s Carbon Fiber conversion systems, responsible for all design and engineering of novel technologies to help advance the growing industry.

About Renee Bagwell

Renee Bagwell, Ph.D., Senior Process Technology Engineer at Harper International, received a Ph.D., M.S., B.S. Mechanical Engineering and a B.S. Industrial Engineering all from University at Buffalo, SUNY.  She worked at Cooper Turbocompressor while working through first two B.S. degrees. After graduate school she went to work in Research and Development at Praxair in the High Temperature Systems Group. After five years Renee came to Harper International and immediately went into the field, and has been actively contributing to the advancements and new designs based on actual field experience since then.

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