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Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology ICT in Pfinztal have developed a new process technique for large-scale use in vehicle construction.
The ICT engineers claim to have developed a process suitable for mass production which makes it possible to manufacture up to 100,000 parts a year. “Our method offers comparatively short production times,« states Dieter Gittel, a project manager at ICT.” The cycle time to produce thermoplastic components is only around five minutes.
The Fraunhofer researchers have named their technique thermoplastic RTM (T-RTM). It is derived from the conventional RTM (Resin Transfer Moulding) technique for thermoset fibre composites, where the composite is formed in a single step. “We insert the pre-heated textile structure into a temperature-controlled moulding tool so that the fibre structures are placed in alignment with the anticipated stress. That enables us to produce very lightweight components,” Gittel explains. The preferred types of reinforcement comprise carbon or glass fibres, and the researchers have also developed highly specialized structures.
The next step involves injecting the activated monomer melt into the moulding chamber. This contains a catalyst and activator system – chemical substances that are required for polymerization. The researchers can select the system and the processing temperature in a way that enables them to set the minimum required processing time.
A demonstration part has confirmed the benefits of this new class of material: the trunk liner for the Porsche Carrera 4 weighs up to 50 percent less than the original aluminium part. To improve the crash behaviour of the vehicle’s overall structure, the ICT engineers also calculated the optimum fibre placement. According to ICT, another advantage of the T-RTM process is that the cost of the thermoplastic matrix material and the cost of its processing are up to 50 percent lower than the equivalent costs for thermoset structures.
Over the next few years it is anticipated that these kinds of components will start to be used in vehicle and machine construction as well as in the leisure industry. ICT will be exhibiting the trunk liner for the Porsche Carrera 4 at the Composites Europe fair in Essen from June 14 – 16 (hall 12, stand C33).
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