Photonic Cleaning Process Moves to Heavy Industry
Ruth A. Mondonsa
A process originally developed for the microelectronics industry and typically used for keeping semiconductor components free of minute contaminants could now prove to be a boon to tire manufacturers. In an unusual case of technology transfer, one of Radiance Services Co's licensed systems integrators, Neuman MicroTechnologies Inc., has employed the internationally patented Radiance Process to perform tire-mold cleaning for one of the top-ten US tire manufacturers.
Traditionally, the method for cleaning tire molds involves scouring the molds with glass beads applied at high pressure. Molds for high-end tires with details on the sidewalls have to be cleaned every two or three weeks; for lower-end products, molds must be cleaned every few months. This technique is expensive, messy and can erode the mold's surface, resulting in lower-quality output and, eventually, requiring replacement of the expensive molds.
The Radiance Process, on the other hand, is a method of using high-energy radiation, typically from a laser, and a flowing inert gas, usually nitrogen, to clean high-tech industrial surfaces. It uses no toxic chemicals and no water. The pulsed laser "lifts" contaminants from an object's surface and an ultrapure inert gas then sweeps the contaminants into a trap. "The Radiance Process removes only surface contaminants and causes no damage to the underlying surface. It does not rely on cumbersome mechanical or chemical methods," said Donna R. Fitzpatrick, president and CEO of Radiance Services in Bethesda, Md.
Radiance Services knew from the beginning that its new process would have many applications beyond microelectronics, and the company has not been disappointed. It has only begun to explore the economies that can be achieved with the Radiance Process. Orest Ohar, president of Concord, N.H.-based Neuman MicroTechnologies says that an Nd:YAG laser, which is much less expensive and much smaller than the excimer lasers preferred by the microelectronics industry, is perfectly suitable for industrial molds. "This raises the real possibility that we can design a system that is so portable that it can be brought to the molds, eliminating the need to break them down for cleaning," he said.
Adapting a high-tech process for heavy industry can dramatically cut production costs, reduce environmental impacts and perform cleaning in a way that does not degrade industrial molds. The fact that five more tire manufacturers have expressed interest in shipping molds for cleaning demonstrations testifies that this application is on the road to success.
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