ENGEL duo for composite research at NCC in Bristol
| Subj: Press-releses
The automotive industry and aircraft construction have traditionally been among the most important industrial sectors in the United Kingdom, where composite research and processing has established itself to an equally high degree. Catapult plays an important role in this. Comparable to the Fraunhofer Society in Germany, Catapult bundles top-level application-oriented research in the United Kingdom and supports the industry to profit more quickly from new technologies. “We act as a kind of catalyst,” says Paul Gallen, Sector Lead Automotive at NCC. The NCC is one of seven institutes which form the Catapult Network, each with its own thematic focus.
Founded in 2012, the NCC currently comprises 17,500 square meters with state-of-the-art manufacturing cells for a wide variety of composite technologies. More than 220 engineers and scientists employed there work closely with the University of Bristol, many other universities worldwide and above all with the industry. Companies — not only from the UK — use the capacities for their own development projects. “We are continuously comparing our roadmap with that of the automotive manufacturers,” says Gallen. “The increased use of thermoplastic materials in lightweight composite construction is high on both agendas.”
There are two main driving forces behind this development: “On the one hand, thermoplastic matrix materials enable efficient further processing of semi-finished products in an injection moulding machine and functionalization with materials from the same material group in a fully integrated, automated process,” explains Christian Wolfsberger, Business Development Manager Composite Technologies at ENGEL’s headquarters in Schwertberg, Austria. “Process integration and automation are the prerequisites for achieving the unit costs required by the high-volume automotive industry. On the other hand, thermoplastic composites simplify the subsequent recycling of components, which is in line with the trend towards circular economy.”
The technological basis for the processing of thermoplastic fibre composites is expanding rapidly. A pioneering role is being taken by organo sheets, which are already being used in series production, particularly in the sporting goods industry. The first applications were recently launched in the automotive industry. “There is great potential,” emphasises Graeme Herlihy, President Western Europe of ENGEL. “All OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers are working hard on this issue.”
With a clamping force of 17,000 kN, the duo injection moulding machine is suitable for large components. In order to have a practical approach to development, the demonstrator moulds are based on the geometries of real car components. The sample parts have different sizes and complexities. So far, mainly organo sheets have been processed. These are heated in the infrared oven, inserted into the mould by the robot, formed there and then immediately overmoulded with plastic. “The fact that the infrared oven is located above the clamping unit simplifies handling and reduces the cycle time,” reports Gallen.
Further developments focus on unidirectional (UD) fibre-reinforced tapes. With the help of these UD tapes, highly stressed areas in the component can be specifically reinforced in order to make even better use of the lightweight construction potential. “Today, the NCC is already a leader in the field of automated fibre laying, so the transition to UD tapes is not too far,” says Gallen. With three differently dimensioned tape layup cells, the NCC is well equipped to produce the layups on site and process them further in an integrated process.
From product design to recycling
NCC developers have carried out many series of tests right from the start with materials typical of the automotive industry, primarily from the PA family, as well as with the high-performance plastics PEEK and PPS, which are preferably used in aircraft construction. “Over the last two years, the aircraft industry has been working intensively on what thermoplastic composites can do for them,” reports Gallen. “The switch to thermoplastics often leads to a massively smaller CO2 footprint.” It all starts with high-volume applications, which also certainly exist in aircraft construction. Fastening elements such as brackets, for example, which hitherto consist of aluminium. “At the end of the day, composites always compete with steel or aluminium,” says Paul Gallen. “Composites can only be used if the parts are even lighter, the unit costs even lower and the production processes even more efficient. Our goal is to additionally obtain even better component properties.”
“The industry we serve is still emerging: The production of composite components in large quantities,” says Paul Gallen (2nd from right) from the NCC. From left: Sean Cooper (NCC), Graeme Herlihy (ENGEL), Christian Wolfsberger (ENGEL).
For composite research, ENGEL supplied a duo 1700 large-scale injection moulding machine to the NCC in Br