Lightweight construction is an important current and future topic that goes beyond the use of carbon fibres. Engel Austria attracted specialists from a wide variety of sectors to the Lightweight Future Day 2019 in May to discuss exciting developments and trends. Over 130 participants accepted the invitation to come to Schwertberg in Upper Austria. The event focused on informative lectures, the exchange of knowledge and forward-thinking visions.
High-ranking experts, new challenges, meaningful arguments and lively discussion – the Lightweight Future Day was just as wide-ranging as the many application topics for lightweight construction. Lightweight construction is a major theme of the future. The great interest in the event clearly reflected this trend. Participants came from a wide variety of sectors – from the automotive and automotive supply industry, aviation, the construction and civil engineering industry through to education and research institutes.
The focus was both on established technologies and solutions for the future.
Lightweight construction drives integrated functions and material mix
The participants at the Lightweight Future Day all agreed that lightweight construction is a major enabler to master the challenges of the future, for example to achieve reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. This is what Dr Umut Çakmak, Managing Director of Plastics Innovation GmbH and scientist at the Institute for Polymer Product Engineering at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, had to say: ''If we think in terms of the efficiency and carbon footprint of components right from the start, it not only has impact on material properties but also on energy demand. What is particularly exciting in this context is the rising significance of thermoplastic structural components and their potential for efficient serial production by integrating functions. In addition, the trend in product engineering is towards hybridisation and load-specific component design. Materials are used where they can best realise their potential strengths.''
During the full-day of the event, particular importance was given to composite lightweight construction based on thermoplastics. Aviation supplier Premium Aerotec is also strengthening its focus on thermoplastics processing. This emerged from the lecture given by speaker Dr Christoph Stehncken, Head of R&T Composites at Premium Aerotec. ''When it comes to fibre composites we have worked with thermosets for some time. We use this for components on the Airbus A350, for example. Currently, many of our research efforts are aimed at the use of thermoplastics for composites.'' Besides their lower weight, one decisive factor is their cost. For example, if aluminium is replaced by thermoplastic components, the number of pieces used for the rear pressure bulkhead on an Airbus A320 can be reduced from 149 to 40, as initial studies show. Of course, this drastically reduces assembly time and therefore costs. ''Certainly, it still remains open whether thermoplastics will really play a major role in batch aircraft construction but in my opinion, the general trend is pointing in this direction, even for primary structures,'' continues Stehncken.
Functional integration is a prime topic which explains the rise in demand for thermoplastic-based technologies. ''At KTM-Technologies our research efforts are currently aimed at functionalisation and hybridisation since the focus is no longer on composites only but on combining them with other materials,'' explains Maja Labentz, MSc, Sales and Account Manager at KTM-Technologies. ''For example, one of the lectures here dealt with back injection. We do this not only on the basis of thermoplastics but also with thermoset/thermoplastic combinations. Here you notice that everyone is taking a similar direction.''
Optimising processes and closing material cycles
A further advantage of complete thermoplastic-based solutions in composite lightweight construction is that they support the establishment of a circular economy. Whereas thermoset-based fibre composites are very restricted when it comes to recycling, composites made of thermoplastics are easily recycled and contribute towards closed material cycles. Design for recycling considers the later recycling process during the product design stage. The Engel organomelt process makes a major contribution towards sustainable, efficient processes along the entire value chain and offer successful applications. ''Since Engel organomelt started its first production applications, there has been a continuous rise in demand from both the automotive and aviation industries'' explains Dr Norbert Müller, head of the Engel Technology Centre for Lightweight Composites, who guided participants through the Lightweight Future Day agenda. ''At the same time, research continues at several levels to find better ways of developing the potential of new materials and processes.''
Dr Norbert Müller, head of the Engel Technology Centre for Lightweight Composites, hosted the diversified agenda of lectures by renowned experts from various branches of industry.
The Engel organomelt process forms and functionalises thermoplastic fibre composite semi-finished products such as organic sheet and UD shapes. Components such as reinforcement ribs or mounting elements can be directly injected after forming with a thermoplastic taken from the material group of the matrix material. This achieves a highly integrated and fully automated production process – at the same time, the process simplifies the recycling of components at the end of their service life. For example, organic sheets are used in serial production for front ends, brake pedals, door modules etc.
Leveraging synergetic effects
The Lightweight Future Day not only dealt with established applications but also provided a visionary outlook of the future. The German Aerospace Centre drew widespread attention when it announced a prototype for a mobile production robot for fibre placement. The self-propelled fibre-placement robot – based on the principle of a robotic lawn mower – offers potential for large-area fibre composite surfaces such as sails and building structures or even in automotive for the production of several different components in a single work step.
It is precisely the blend of applied technologies, future visions and insights into various branches of industry that made the Lightweight Future Day into a successful event. ''What I am taking home with me is a combination of everything,'' says Labentz. ''In today’s world, it is no longer possible to think in terms of a single sector – a number of different sectors must be covered. The first lectures of the day made this very clear and this is exactly what we are observing in development. Engineers want to get the best out of a combination and even try to get a little bit extra. The event gives us an excellent overview of what other companies are working on and whether we are keeping up with the times. We meet familiar and new faces and obtain insights in new fields. I think a view over the horizon is always helpful. In the end, the customer or project benefits. This is why I think events like these are so important.'' The general tenor during the event was that the industry could learn a lot about lightweight construction from each other and that in future, interfaces between the companies would play an ever greater role in future. Whereas synergetic effects were not fully utilised in the past, the various sectors are now starting to exchange experiences and knowledge more frequently. This close alliance between material suppliers, plant manufacturers, mould manufacturers, development departments, services and service providers is what the Lightweight Future Day at Engel brought to light and it showed the commitment of all participants to find joint solutions for the future.