Pucks, Polymers and Olympic Ice Hockey (Part 1)

Olympic Hockey

Doug Sharpe
President of Elasto Proxy

What’s your favorite Winter Olympic sport? Do you enjoy watching bobsled and luge runs because of the aerodynamics involved? There’s a fair amount of material science, too, as the engineers at BMW can attest. At Sochi next month, Team USA will race a carbon fiber bobsleigh that was designed by the German automaker.

Here in Canada, we enjoy all of the Winter Olympic sports, but have a special interest in ice hockey. It’s our national winter sport after all, and Team Canada won the gold medal in 2010. Like bobsledding and the luge, hockey requires speed, strength, and athletic talent. The equipment that hockey players wear must promote performance and provide protection – and that’s where material science hits the ice.

Hockey Helmets and Helmet Inserts

As the co-founder and co-owner of a company that custom-fabricates rubber and plastic products, I’m always interested in the role that polymers play. For hockey fans, one of Elasto Proxy’s most interesting projects was custom-fabricating the EVA foam that’s used in hockey helmet inserts. The helmet’s shell itself is made of a lightweight plastic, typically a polycarbonate material.

Hockey helmets are important, but they’re just one piece of equipment. Players need sticks and skates,  as well as other types of protective gear. The Olympics organization sets the rules for what players can and must wear, so let’s take a look at where else polymers are used. Even with hockey sticks and skates, there’s more than meets the eye.

Hockey Skates and Hockey Sticks

Many hockey skates feature a ballistic-proof nylon that provides greater protection against cutting than natural leather, a traditional boot material. Used in the upper boot, this nylon knit is a synthetic polymer that provides water resistance. Nylon is also a thermoplastic – and it’s not the only one used in hockey skates. Today, molded plastic boots with plastic stanchions and plastic tubing are also available.

According to the Olympic organization’s website, hockey sticks can also be made of plastic as long as the edges are beveled and free of projections. A stick’s curve cannot exceed 1.5-cm, but tape can be applied anywhere on the shaft or the blade. Hockey sticks can be made from other materials, including wood, metal, and Kevlar. Given these options, will we see any plastic hockey sticks at Sochi?

Hockey Protective Equipment

In the Part 2 of this series about Olympic ice hockey, we’ll examine how polymers are used in hockey protective equipment: elbow pads, gloves, shin guards, and shoulder pads. We’ll also explore why hockey pucks slide across the ice – and why it hurts so much when you get hit by one.

Rubber and Rail Safety – It’s Time to Have a Conversation

ND Derailment

Image Source: npr.org

Clyde Sharpe
President of International Sales at Elasto Proxy

First there was the deadly rail disaster in nearby Lac- Mégantic, Quebec. Then there was the oil spill that spoiled the beaches of Ao Prao, Thailand. A pair of pipeline explosions in Quindao, China devastated sections of that historic city. An oil-train derailment in Gainford, Alberta brought Canadians’ attention back home. Fall turned to winter, and we wondered how Casselton, North Dakota would face the fire.

The Casselton Oil Train Derailment

On a cold December afternoon, approximately 20 oil tankers in a mile-long train jumped the tracks near Casselton in southeast North Dakota. The fire that blazed was so intense that first responders couldn’t get close enough to count the damaged rail cars.  Although no one was injured, residents felt the fire’s fury. Explosions on the outskirts of town lasted for hours, shaking homes and businesses.

When the wind changed direction, meteorologists worried that the plume of smoke from the gigantic fireball could engulf the community. The North Dakota Department of Health warned that exposure to burning crude oil could cause coughing, shortness of breath, and itching or watery eyes. Residents with asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema were advised to stay indoors.

North American Rail Safety

As the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) began investigating this latest oil train incident, the mayor of Casselton reminded reporters that “numerous derailments” have occurred in North Dakota, America’s No. 2 oil-producing state. “It’s almost gotten to the point that it looks like not if we’re going to have an accident, it’s when,” said Mayor Ed McConnell.

Temperatures plummeted as McConnell made his case that it’s time to “have a conversation” about the dangers of transporting oil by rail. Even by North Dakota standards, it’s been a hard winter. Canadians aren’t strangers to the cold, of course, and many of us share Mayor McConnell’s concerns about rail safety. From Lac-Megantic to Gainford and now to Casselton, oil trains are a North American issue.

A Role for Rubber

Safety doesn’t end at the shoreline, however. Just ask the residents of Ao Prao, Thailand and Quindao, China – and other parts of the world where oil spills and petroleum pipeline explosions have claimed lives and damaged ecosystems. What is the safest way to transport oil? Is there an acceptable rate of failure? As long as petroleum powers industrial production, are oil spills inevitable?

As a supplier of sealing solutions to global markets, Elasto Proxy will continue to ask about a role for rubber in promoting rail safety and pipeline safety. Throughout 2013, we covered both of these issues and even suggested a role for rubber bladders on rail cars. We also blogged about service temperatures, and how extremely cold temperatures in places like North Dakota affects rubber’s properties.

Join the Conversation

We agree with Casselton’s Mayor, Ed McConnell, that it’s time “have a conversation” about petroleum shipments and rail safety. Will you join the conversation, too? Look for my post with a link to this blog entry on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Elasto Proxy has pages on all of these social media websites, so all that’s missing is you.

I hope you’ll subscribe to our free e-newsletters, too. They’re a great source of information delivered right to your email inbox, and provide links to blog entries like this one.

The Evolution of EMI Shielding

EMI Profiles and Sheeting
EMI Profiles and Sheeting

Doug Sharpe
President of Elasto Proxy

Have you ever wondered why you’re not allowed to use your cell phone on an airplane or in a hospital? It’s because cell phones produce electromagnetic fields that can interfere with avionics and medical equipment. If electromagnetic interference (EMI) disrupts in-flight communications, a pilot may not be able to receive radio transmissions from an air traffic control tower. EMI can also endanger patients in hospitals, where it can cause medical devices such as ventilators or heart monitors to malfunction.

EMI can be so powerful that defense and security experts worry about its intentional use by criminals, hackers, and terrorists. Electronic jamming isn’t new, but the proliferation of wireless devices and electronic communications increases our vulnerability. Preventing inadvertent or intentional EMI from disrupting electronic communications can’t be an afterthought in the design process. After all, ensuring electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) could mean the difference between life and death.

Metal Enclosures and More

When designing electronic devices, manufacturers must follow regulations for preventing EMI and RFI, a form of EMI in the radio frequency (RF) part of the electromagnetic spectrum. By using EMI shielding, electronic designers can reduce – or attenuate – this interference. Through a combination of reflection and absorption, EMI shielding opposes the invisible waves of electromagnetic energy that can cause communication failures. EMI shields were once almost exclusively metal, but have evolved over time.

Back in the days of Bell Telephone, technicians maintained grounded cabinets made with beryllium fingers. These metal enclosures protected sensitive components from outside interference while containing electronic emissions. Buyers of EMI shielding also opted for wire mesh made of different metals, and that included elastomeric cores made of tubing or sponge-like materials. These cores supported the metal mesh during installation and helped it to retain its shape.

During the 1980s, product designers began to use loaded materials – silicones with metal inside. EMI shielding also evolved as more applications required lower-cost, lighter-weight, and easier-to-produce solutions. Metal enclosures made of aluminum, steel, nickel, and nickel-iron alloys are highly effective against EMI, but cost more than lighter-weight thermoplastics that are produced with injection molding rather than metal stamping.

Thermoplastic Enclosures and Conductive Coatings

Plastic products alone cannot provide adequate EMI protection, however. Because plastic materials are electrically insulating, internal electric charges do not flow freely.  To overcome this inherent condition, conductive coatings are applied, often through electroless plating. This labor-intensive chemical process deposits a thin layer of metal onto the plastic after the substrate is exposed to solvent, etched with acid and rinsed, and a catalyst is applied.

Although electroless plating remains popular, concerns about production costs, worker safety, and the environment are causing some companies to choose other coatings instead. Made with a thermoplastic or thermosetting resin, these alternative coatings are loaded with metallic particles like silver, copper, or nickel. Instead of filling or loading the plastic part with metal then, conductive material is applied to the part’s surface (as with electroless plating).

Highly-conductive epoxy coatings for thermoplastic enclosures are another choice for EMI shielding. Lightweight and self-assembling, these polymeric coatings provide resistance to high temperatures, humidity, and marine environments. Unlike traditional coatings, they are available as adhesives and films. Highly-conductive epoxy coatings can be sprayed onto plastic parts with consistent coverage, but without the cost, safety, and environmental drawbacks associated with electroless plating.

How Can We Help You?

For over 20 years, Elasto Proxy has supplied sealing solutions to a wide variety of industries, including military, medical, and marine applications. To outfit our partners with an environmental seal that provides EMI shielding, we’ve custom-fabricated high-quality silicone profiles with wire mesh. Our experience with EMI shielding also includes working with defense contractors on sealing solutions for mobile military communications centers that must resist electronic jamming.

How can we help you? Let’s talk about EMI shielding. Join the conversation. Look for my post with a link to this blog entry on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Elasto Proxy has pages on all of these social media websites, so all that’s missing is you! I also hope you’ll subscribe to our free e-newsletters, too. They’re a great source of information delivered right to your email inbox.