Composite innovation awards

Plastics trade organisation AVK (Industrievereinigung Verstärkte Kunststoffe) has named the winners of its Innovation Awards.

According to the organization, three composites innovations were recognized in each of the three categories – innovative products/applications, innovative processes and research and science.

‘As usual, the submissions included a lot of very interesting and promising products and processes this year,’ said Dr Elmar Witten, managing director. ‘The Innovation Awards highlight the outstanding efficiency, cost-effectiveness and sustainability of fiber-reinforced plastics as well as the companies and institutes operating in the sector.’

First place in the products/applications category was awarded to the traffic signs (N-BMC) developed by Nabasco Products BV and Lorenz Kunststofftechnik GmbH with their partners Pol Heteren BV and NPSP BV. The signs are made of sheet molding compound (SMC) and are more sustainable than conventional aluminum products as there is no loss of material. All the raw materials are purchased within a radius of 500 km. The signs have already been awarded the bronze level Cradle-2-Cradle certificate for sustainability.

Evonik Operations GmbH took second place for its novel, ultratough vinyl ester resin for use in the construction of large marine vessels. The new resin enables shipbuilders to construct large hulls from glass fiber-reinforced plastic and is faster, more efficient and cheaper than current resins. The improved fatigue behavior of the resin matrix also significantly optimizes the service life of the hull, so both the builders and operators of large ships can exploit the sustainability advantages of composites even more effectively.

Third place was awarded to an air intake housing with a multi-material design for gas turbines developed by MAN Energy Solutions SE, Leichtbau-Zentrum Sachsen GmbH and Leichtbau-Systemtechnologien Korropol GmbH. The central idea behind the development of the housing is to separate its functions into two parts: one is load-bearing while the other is subject almost exclusively to aerodynamic stresses. The air-conducting components of the housing, which are usually made from very heavy grey cast iron, were designed as a classic GRP (glass fiber-reinforced plastic) shell construction. The new air intake housing with a multi-material design is not only cost-neutral with a 60 % reduction in mass, it also allows the housing to be adapted quickly to changed flow contours and offers considerable potential for further cost reductions.

First place in the innovative processes category was awarded to the BMW Group with its partner Renolit SE for its in-mold wrapping process, a new type of component coating for a sustainable fiber composite plastic exterior. This reduces the time, materials and costs associated with surface coatings by applying a film to the component during the pressing process. Conventional surface preparation and painting processes usually cause a large proportion of the CO2 emissions that occur during the production of components. The new process is suitable for a variety of thermoset pressing processes. It uses films that can be vacuum-formed without additional heating steps. In-mold wrapping can reportedly reduce CO2 emissions by up to 93% compared to standard painting techniques.

Second place went to Lufthansa Technik AG and its partner iSAM AG for the adaptive automated repair of composite structural components in the aviation sector. The robot-based, adaptive automated repair system uses path planning software to conduct repairs on a range of composite structural parts. The areas being repaired can cover several square meters on multi-curved components and the system can achieve accuracies of up to ±0.06 mm. This new technology can reduce processing times by 50–85% and material consumption by up to 50%, while also relieving workers of repetitive and unergonomic tasks. In addition, the system makes it possible to perform repairs that were previously not economically or technically viable.

CTC GmbH came in third place with its automated surface pre-treatment using VUV excimer lamps. The pre-treatment of surfaces in preparation for painting CFRP (carbon fiber-reinforced plastic) components is a multi-stage process. It is usually unergonomic, time consuming and energy intensive. This difficult process can now be automated by irradiating components using a VUV excimer lamp with cold UVC radiation. The lamp combines two key functions – cleaning and surface activation. Importantly, the mobile robotic system can navigate autonomously to the construction site and perform the surface treatment there.

First place in the research and science category was awarded to the German Aerospace Center (DLR) for its Bondline Control Technology (BCT). This process is used for quality control and assurance of bonded joints. The core element is a porous fabric which is applied to a joining surface using an epoxy adhesive or matrix resin. Peeling away the fabric creates a chemically reactive and undercut surface and can also be used as a test to check adhesion to the substrate. BCT has potential in a variety of possible applications. For example, peel ply can be replaced by BCT fabric to produce composite components with an optimized joining surface. The cost-effective BCT peel test is suitable for coupon testing and process control. In addition, the combined adhesion test and surface pre-treatment can be used for quality assurance of bonded repairs on fiber composite structures.

Second place was taken by the Institute of Textile Technology (ITA) at RWTH Aachen University and its partners Aerovide GmbH, Altropol Kunststoff GmbH, Basamentwerke Böcke GmbH, TechnoCarbon Technologies GbR with its new product StoneBlade, designed for lightweight construction with granite for the wind industry. This innovation enables manufacturers to reduce the amount of non-recyclable materials used in rotor blade construction. At the same time, it reduces the weight of these components and improves the mechanical properties relating to the stability of wind turbines. The innovative approach replaces glass fiber-reinforced plastic in the blade components with hard rock – a natural, cost-effective and recyclable lightweight material. The slabs of rock are cut and ground to a thickness of just a few millimeters and embedded in a fiber composite laminate with carbon fiber, which stabilizes them for alternating load cases. The pre-stressed material is pressure-stable in the composite and can absorb tensile forces in the event of continuously alternating loads without any loss of stiffness.

Third place went to the Dresden University of Technology – Institute for Lightweight Construction and Plastics Technology (ILK) with its partner Mercedes Benz AG for the interdisciplinary development of a highly integrated inductive charging module for electric vehicles. The ultra-thin charging module was designed to make optimum use of space in the vehicle underbody without reducing ground clearance. An interdisciplinary approach was adopted for the development process. This involved the electrical, mechanical and process characterization of high-frequency Litz wires, ferromagnetic foil and metal wire cloth as well as the creation of a simulation model. The result is a demonstrator for a charging system with a structural height of 15 mm and a total weight of 8 kg. It achieves a transmission efficiency of up to 92 % at 7.2 kW nominal power and active air cooling. The hardware demonstrator was fabricated in a 3-step process using RTM and VARI techniques.

This story uses material from AVKwith editorial changes made by Materials Today.