Plastic is fantastic!

The CERN TS/MME Group's polymer workshop assists the accelerators and experiments in drawing up specifications, producing prototypes and making limited or special series of polymer parts.

Jean-François Ecarnot and Sébastien Clément, the CERN polymer laboratory's two technicians.

Making polymer components is a bit like making bread. Just add a hardening agent and other processing agents to the resin, mix well, de-gas to remove the air, then cook in ovens bearing a striking resemblance to bread ovens and they're ready! The recipe is somewhat more complicated in practice. CERN's polymer experts have special knowledge and skills enabling them to find and adapt polymers and glues in order to resolve the toughest problems the components of the accelerators and experiments can throw at them.

The CERN polymer workshop (TS Department, MME Group) responds to highly specific requests. It provides advice, makes prototypes and draws up specifications for items that are subsequently produced by industry or partner institutes. The workshop played a vital role, for example, in the renovation of the PS magnets manufactured at the end of the 1950s. The problem was to find a new resin and a new glass fibre meeting the specifications, i.e. equalling the performances of the original materials but also complying with current standards. 'One of our strong points is that we keep records of the materials used for many accelerators and detectors', explains Jean-François Ecarnot, one of the workshop's two technicians.

In cases where series are too small or too specific to be produced in industry or where the cost would be prohibitive, the team takes on the production. As part of the SPS renovation work, it produced a series of 400 polyamide insulations for the correction coils of the septum magnets. For the LHC, the workshop is currently insulating 3400 cable supports for the dipole magnets. These metal supports are successively heated and plunged into a polyamide powder that gives them a uniform 0.2 mm coating to provide insulation from electric current. 'The coating time is vital', explains Sébastien Clément, the workshop's other technician. For the experiments, the workshop has also supplied HV connectors for the ATLAS and ALICE TRT. One particularly impressive achievement was the production of moulds for the leak detectors, which will be used to test all the welds on the cryolines of the LHC and other magnets. These innovative polyurethane rings are made as a single piece. The workshop does all this using some old but still efficient equipment: moulds, five programmable ovens for polymerisation, a 600° C oven for metal parts to be impregnated and two vacuum bell jars for impregnation.

With the installation of the accelerator and the experiments reaching its peak, the workshop is currently flooded with requests, in particular as unexpected problems requiring emergency solutions arise. The workshop's two technicians provide the users with invaluable expertise in their efforts to resolve all the requests for tests, prototypes and parts they submit.

If you're looking for a solution involving plastics or adhesives, don't hesitate to contact the polymer workshop (Building 101-1, e-mail:!