Engel ramps up efforts for lightweight production research

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Photo by ENGEL AUSTRIA From left to right: Dr. Norbert Müller (Head of the ENGEL Technology Centre for Lightweight Composites), Dr. Michael Emonts (Managing Director of the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) of RWTH Aachen University), Rolf Saß (General Manager of ENGEL Deutschland GmbH) and Dr. Christoph Steger (Chief Sales Officer at ENGEL Holding).

Austrian machinery maker Engel Holding GmbH is furthering the development of fibre-reinforced plastics processes with the installation of a 1,700-metric-ton injection moulding machine at the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) in Aachen, Germany.

The Engel injection moulding machine, which will be installed at the technical centre in 2019, will allow combinations of traditional fibre-reinforced plastics processes and the development of more innovative processes, with a special focus on increasing resource efficiency in lightweight production, the company said.

In addition, research will explore the more efficient use of materials, especially composites, in the mass production of lightweight components.

AZL, part of Germany's RWTH Aachen University, was established in 2012 with the goal of enabling the mass production of lightweight components, including multimaterial or composite systems. In addition to the Engel press, the centre houses other large-scale equipment for the development of lightweight production processes such as a 1,800-metric-ton press from Schuler AG, compression mould equipment from Lotte, Germany-based Frimo GmbH and a 200-metric-ton CXW SpinForm rotating table injection moulding machine from Munich's KraussMaffei Group GmbH. The KraussMaffei press was delivered in 2017 and has been used in laser-assisted hybrid thermoset/thermoplastic moulding in the OptoLight project.

"The AZL provides great conditions for industry-related research activities in the field of lightweight composites, as it is characterized by a strong interdisciplinary approach," Engel CEO Stefan Engleder said in a statement.

Engel has been working closely with AZL as a partner company for many years. Together, the two organizations are working toward the development of efficient mass production processes for lightweight composites.

"This new injection moulding system offers us as specialists for lightweight production technology in cooperation with the injection moulding experts of the IKV plastic processing institute, the opportunity to establish hybrid processes for industrial lightweight applications," Michael Emonts, AZL's managing director, said in a statement. "The system will expand our existing machinery in the AZL technical centre and will be available as an important platform for lightweight production research at RWTH Aachen University."

Tape-laying progress

The Engel press is also well-suited for thermoplastic tape laying, an area in which the machinery maker has developed its own tape-laying equipment, with its own inline optical quality control, suitable for unidirectional glass and carbon-fibre-reinforced thermoplastic tapes. These, too, are used in hybrid lightweight construction by efficiently providing selected tailored reinforcement where it is really needed, instead of increasing overall thickness and, therefore, weight.

Engel's tape-laying cell consists of six magazines, two six-axis robots, a laying-down table and a conveyor belt. The cell has been designed to be able to simultaneously handle different types of tapes and weld them together into preforms after laying down.

Optical control taking just several milliseconds is applied to ensure within 0.02mm lay-down precision and tape quality, with imprecisely laid or faulty tapes rejected at an early stage in hybrid part production. 

The production cell has been designed so that it can work seamlessly with injection moulding machines in which the mouldings to be reinforced are produced. This means the cell must usually present 20 preforms per minute to the injection moulding machine. All tape trimming is performed in advance, so no further trimming is needed after tape consolidation.

AZL has also been making progress with the use of thermoplastic tapes in the production of injection moulded parts through its partnership with the IKV plastics processing institute at RWTH University in Aachen, which is located on the same campus as AZL.

Together, AZL and IKV have been working with medium-sized injection moulders, tape manufacturers, machine and tool builders, OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers on how thermoplastic tapes can improve product properties of moulded parts, lower costs and increase overall efficiency.

At Fakuma, the two organizations hosted a kick-off meeting, highlighting the scope and objective of a six-month, three-phase study. The study will examine how the use of thermoplastic tapes as local reinforcements can enable efficient material usage and improved properties, such as increased stiffness and strength, of injection moulded parts.

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