U.S. Olympic luge team rides into history on Ashland resin
American Olympians zipping down the luge track in Sochi, making history with the country's first singles medal, were firmly planted on precision-built sleds made with a donation of Ashland AME™ resin. In a sport where tiny fractions of a second determine medalists, gaining an edge through innovation is huge and the effort barely paused for the Olympics.
"We're working on the next-generation sled and it also will be made and repaired with Ashland's resin," says Duncan Kennedy, technical programs manager for USA Luge.
It's a continuation of the intense effort leading to the Sochi success.
"In a lot of ways, we started from scratch," says Kennedy, "The old way to build a sled was to lay it up by hand in a mold. You’d get varying thicknesses and that affects performance. Now it’s vacuum molded.
"The whole concept of different kinds of resins was new to us. It’s old hat to you guys, but it opened a whole new world to us," he adds. "If you had told me six years ago that different resins could make for a different performance, I wouldn’t have believed you."
Luge sleds are simple in appearance – a small seat and some blades – but just as refined as any world-class sporting equipment. The Americans will be sliding on sled pods built by Placid Boatworks, a small business in Lake Placid, N.Y., that developed a vacuum infusion system to manufacture tough-but-lightweight canoes out of composite materials. The sled design and blades are by Dow Chemical Co.
"AME 6001 resin is one of our premium vinyl ester resins, usually used in boatbuilding," says Bob Hall, global director of specialty resins, Ashland Performance Materials. "The luge team is also using our resin for all repair work." AME resin is recognized for resilience and fatigue-resistance that exceeds traditional resins.
Kennedy says science is helping the US catch up to the rest of the world in luge.
"The Germans are very leading-edge technically speaking. They have a model program for sled technology," he says. "But we’ve gone from playing catch-up to being even more advanced than the Germans on some parts.
"But we’re not going to see everything come together yet; we still need a couple of years. We had a sort of a crash course in learning what the materials can do. Anytime we’re going over any part of the sled, we have to understand the properties of the resins and carbon fibers, and what can happen," he adds.
Luge athletes steer the sleds with subtle body movements while at breakneck speeds on a curvy course, lying flat on their back and peering down over their chin. Their equipment has to be responsive.
"What’s critical, from an Ashland resin perspective, is that now we have components we can make light and still maintain performance, and we can adjust balance points," says Kennedy. "This is the most technical exposure we have ever gotten. Corporate support literally keeps us on the ice."
As soon as the Olympics are over, work starts anew.
"The real fun starts in March," Kennedy says. "That’s when testing and development comes around."
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