A billet container for an aluminum extrusion press is machined at R. L. Best International in Sanford, FL. (Photo courtesy of R. L. Best)
A NASA-funded program is helping small businesses succeed by providing free engineering assistance and speeding the transfer of space technology to the private sector. The program has fostered a number of recent success stories, including helping R. L. Best International improve its production capabilities.

Founded in 1967, R. L. Best manufactures large-tonnage hy-draulic presses that extrude large pieces of aluminum for construction-industry products, such as windows, doors and screened patio enclosures.

The company needed to design a container assembly that would maintain a specified temperature along the length of the aluminum piece that is inserted during extrusion. However, R.L. Best was having difficulty attaining the correct temperature throughout the container.

"We needed zoned heat that would gradually increase toward the center of the container," says Ted Best, R.L. Best's vice president. "What we didn't know was how to obtain that temperature gradient. After trying some hand calculations on our own, we took the problem to one of our vendors, but the challenge proved to be outside their technical realm as well."

Through the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, Best heard that perhaps the NASA-funded Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program, or SATOP, could help. The program's goal is to help small businesses apply the technical expertise derived from the U.S. space program. Made up of an alliance of space industries, universities, colleges and NASA centers, SATOP finds professionals within these companies who volunteer their time and expertise in solving the challenges brought forth by the inquiring businesses.

Best completed a request for technical assistance (RTA), and the project was assigned to Jim Jones, a senior analyst with Design By Analysis Inc. (DBA), an alliance partner based in New Britain, CT.

R. L. Best provided DBA with drawings of the container, a description of the problem and what attempts had been made to find a solution. Jones then used specialized software to build a transient thermal analysis.

Jones analyzed the container until he was able to identify the approximate desired thermal gradient and gave the results to R. L. Best. "After confirming that they correlated with the test results, I identified a method for R. L. Best to use their own in-house software to make future approximate predictions," Jones says. "Now they have the methodology to predict the temperature gradients and to make accurate design decisions."

"Thanks to SATOP and DBA, we have designed a new container that's currently being tested," Best says. "Their model has given us a technical advantage and allowed us to see what's happening with the heat transfer inside the container."

The entire RTA process took less than two months to complete, at no cost to R. L. Best. "We are very pleased with how quickly everyone was able to respond and get the job done," Best says.

Other SATOP success stories have involved a wide range of manufacturing products, from medical devices to shading structures to a futuristic personal aircraft design. For more information about SATOP, go to www.SpaceTechSolutions.com.