Stimulus spending on SRF heats up with vacuum oven
|Paul DeLisle (left), chief engineer at T-M Vacuum Products, stands with Rennie Wessner, vice president of T-M Vacuum Products, in front of the type of vacuum oven that Fermilab will use to treat SRF cavities.
When Rowen Stuffer got into the sheet-metal business in the 1940s, he manufactured ice cream trucks, among other products. Today his business is building equipment for next-generation particle accelerators.
In November Fermilab ordered a $475,000 vacuum oven from T-M Vacuum Products, the small, family-owned business that Stuffer started 40 years ago. The company now specializes in manufacturing vacuum ovens and furnaces.
Fermilab will use the vacuum oven to treat superconducting radio-frequency cavities. The laboratory made the purchase using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
"It is our first order directly related to the Recovery Act, which is nice to see," said Rennie Wessner, vice president of T-M Vacuum Products and granddaughter of Stuffer.
Superconducting cavities are the technology of choice for next-generation accelerators and have potential applications in medicine, energy and material science.
In order for a superconducting cavity to accelerate the maximum number of particles over the minimal distance – a performance measure called the acceleration gradient – scientists use a number of methods to clean and purify the hollow structures. One treatment uses a vacuum oven to bake each cavity at 800 degrees Celsius for hours at a time, removing hydrogen from the pure niobium material.
"Removing the hydrogen helps achieve an optimal gradient," said Fermilab engineer Mayling Wong.
Fermilab required a specialized oven that would not only hold the meter-long cavity but also have an extremely high vacuum and temperature, the essential components for maintaining the ultra-clean environment that the cavities require. T-M Vacuum Products had the technical expertise and the ability to customize the oven for Fermilab's needs, such as making it longer and building a load cart to hold the cavities, Wong said.
T-M Vacuum Products has 38 full-time employees. Each oven takes 4,000 man-hours to assemble, and almost 100 percent of the manufacturing takes place in the company's 53,000-square-foot factory in Cinnaminson, N.J.
"We are very proud of putting on our 'Made in the USA' sticker," Wessner said. "It's not easy to do these days."
Fermilab expects the vacuum oven to arrive in June.
-- Elizabeth Clements