Transformation process of mobility brings opportunities for mechanical engineering
In recent years, mechanical engineering has increasingly developed into one of the areas of application from which significant growth impulses are expected for the fibre composite industry. This is the conclusion of the 12th Composites Market Survey conducted by Composites Germany at the beginning of the year. Electromobility and the associated lightweight construction are likely to be a major driver in this respect. According to the VDMA study "Antrieb im Wandel" ("Drive in Change") - prepared by FEV Consulting GmbH - the increasing dynamics in the electrification of vehicles and in drive technology will lead to drastic changes in the entire German mobility and vehicle industry as well as in significant parts of mechanical engineering.
Although FEV experts expect sales of combustion engines (including hybrid drives) for passenger cars to fall by ten percent by 2030 compared with 2016 in the three markets considered (Europe, USA and China), the authors of the study also expect a 22 percent share of purely electrically driven vehicles in these three markets. The effects of electrification on the individual production processes that dominate conventional drives are considerable. For example, the value added by battery electric drive systems is reduced by an average of 64 percent (excluding battery cell production). In contrast, the added value of (plug-in) hybrid drives increases by 24 percent.
"The transformation process of mobility offers mechanical engineering opportunities for additional added value," says VDMA President Carl Martin Welcker. Companies still have time to successfully shape the transformation in order to adapt business models and technologies. At the same time, however, the study also shows that hybridisation and electrification will prevail on the market. This is the opportunity for composites: Excellent lightweight construction properties thanks to low density and mass, high strength and rigidity, resistance to abrasion, corrosion, temperature and chemicals, adjustable thermal expansion, electrical conductivity or insulation as well as the possibility of integrating intelligent components make the materials increasingly interesting for machine manufacturers.
GRP and CFRP: Small market share, great growth prospects
The VDI Centre for Resource Efficiency also sees a large and growing market for lightweight construction solutions in mechanical and plant engineering in its 2015 report "Inventory of Lightweight Construction in Germany". There are already many applications in mechanical engineering that can be implemented with the aid of GRP or CFRP - including gripping systems, cones, connecting rods, lifting beams and rotor brackets, blade blades, robot arms, springs, drive shafts, rollers or components for textile and machine tools. However, they are not produced in high volumes or large series, but in a large number of different niches with high potential.
Small market share, great growth prospects - this applies to both GRP and CFRP. Nevertheless, the areas of application and thus the market prospects for the individual fiber composites are different. GRP is mainly used in plant construction in the form of profiles or as pipes and tanks, which are produced using the centrifugal or winding process. The potential here is enormous for pipes, for example, because GRP only accounts for three to five percent of the total market, especially for large diameters, according to last year's "Composites Market Report 2017".
Composite materials in mechanical engineering mainly as sandwich and profile constructions
According to Carbon Composites e.V., CFRP materials also increasingly convinced decision-makers. Because "with their material properties, these materials provide mechanical engineering with many advantages, for example with their high innovation potential," according to a market study. Highly damping lightweight composites, for example, have made it possible to significantly reduce moving masses in various applications. This and high vibration damping are extremely advantageous for a high-precision machine tool. This allows smaller drives and a design for reduced machining forces to be realized, say the experts. As a result, accuracy and thus quality increase. The service life of the machine and the service life of the tools also increase.
Composite materials are mainly used in mechanical engineering as sandwich and profile constructions in the form of CFRP plates and profiles. The corresponding semi-finished products are increasingly joined by gluing. The components are suitable for very rigid constructions, which still permit high positioning accuracy even when enormous acceleration forces are applied. Through the targeted selection of fibers and an appropriate layer structure, advantageous E-modules can be achieved at very low weight, which are almost twice as high as those of steel. CFRP components can also be designed for minimal thermal expansion.
Neue Konzepte in der Herstellung von Thermoplastischen Prepregs
COMPOSITES EUROPE, which will take place in Stuttgart from 10 to 12 September 2019, will also show the latest developments in the field of fibre-reinforced composites for the mechanical engineering sector. It brings together the most important market participants, who will present their latest developments here. One of them is Coatema Coating Machinery GmbH. "We are presenting new concepts in the production of thermoplastic prepregs," explains Sales Manager Elmar Kempe. "These are based on the proven Click&Coat system for high-precision laboratory systems for R2R coating. The systems are designed in such a way that the settings of the coating units guarantee maximum accuracy down to the nanometer range of the coating.
With the third generation of the basecoater, Coatema has also launched a new generation of pilot systems on the market. The housing makes it possible to operate the system with solvent-based resins. In addition, the company offers systems with corresponding upgrades: high-precision register cameras, finely adjustable adjustment options for a wide variety of coating and printing systems. These and many other systems can also be retrofitted. Coatema continuously researches and develops state-of-the-art production processes in the fields of multifunctional composites, batteries, solar cells, OPVs and OLEDs together with various research partners.
"Based on these developments, the production process is optimized so that the working speed and width can be upscaled. Integrated quality control systems play an important role in this," explains Kempe. Coatema offers the world's largest pilot plant for coating, printing and laminating on an area of over 1,200 m2. Nine laboratory and pilot systems, a production system, a Click&Coat system as well as laboratories and meeting rooms are available for customers and research partners.
"The composites industry will evolve and grow."
"The composites industry will continue to develop and grow as a result of the global demand for ever lighter cars and aircraft, whether as a result of e-mobility or to improve the cost-benefit effect. It is therefore all the more important for us to make the most of the time and react in good time to the wishes of the market," says Kempe. "This is why COMPOSITES EUROPE is so important for us, because it offers the best opportunity to present ourselves to our domestic customers and to cultivate our international contacts and find new ones.
"Without a high-quality mechanical engineering, parts as well as preliminary products such as prepregs would not be producible. It was precisely the ever-increasing demands on quality and variance in the demands of OEMs that led to mechanical engineering, especially us as Coatema, having to develop further," says the Sales Manager. "Until a few years ago, things like thermoplastic materials or high-end prepregs were not the rule, but the exception. This has changed completely. We are in the fortunate position of not having to make any major adjustments here, as we have always been active in this field and can offer the right complete solutions for it."
Filament winding processes accelerated by five to ten times
Another company exhibiting in Stuttgart is Roth Composite Machinery GmbH. "We are currently seeing a good market development. Weight reduction is becoming increasingly important, which is leading to an increased use of fibre composites, which in turn is increasing interest in our machines used to produce and process composites," explains Bianca Czipp, Sales/Sales. At COMPOSITES EUROPE, the most important trade fair in the D-A-CH sector, new contacts were made and existing ones maintained and developed.
At COMPOSITES EUROPE, Roth will present the Rothawin technology, a process that accelerates filament winding processes by a factor of five to ten. "With the new Rothawin technology, our staff of development engineers has developed a revolutionary process that replaces traditional winding processes and makes production processes many times more efficient. This will enable us to live up to our own claim as a technology leader," says Sales Manager Bernd Fischer.
Another innovation is the Type 1-ECO machine. It is the standardized version of the most successful tailor-made filament winding portal machine on the market. "It is equipped with all the essential basic functions and, in particular, offers the cost-conscious newcomer to fibre winding technology robustness, durability and precision," says Fischer. The new machine convinces with its modular concept with up to four spindles. A maximum of four winding axes and two length variants (4,000 and 10,000 millimeters) can be configured. Each spindle has a separate drive, which makes retrofitting easy and cost-effective.
Machine concepts for research institutions and universities
In addition, the company completes its product range with robot filament winding machines. This technology uses a six-axis robot to move the laying eye to guide the winding thread. The systems are particularly suitable for the development and small series production of products for lightweight construction applications. For the new machine program, Roth cooperates with a leading robot manufacturer and combines state-of-the-art robot technology with more than 50 years of experience in fiber winding technology.
The machine concepts have a modular structure and are used in particular in research facilities and at universities. While a CNC machine with modern control technology automatically produces large quantities of products, the winding robot is suitable for small quantities produced at lower winding speeds. Components of the robot filament winding systems are the impregnation station, the automatic fibre unwinding machine and the laying device. For each individual production step, the company can draw on comprehensive knowledge of process engineering.
From cutting and stacking to automated preforms
Also represented at COMPOSITES EUROPE is Schmidt & Heinzmann GmbH & Co. KG. The company is exhibiting a leaf spring made of composites for trucks and vans. "This was created in a joint project with partners along the value chain. The preforms were manufactured by us," reports Lena Rieth from Marketing. "In this project, we contributed our expertise in the processing of dry fibers. Our service portfolio for this type of material ranges from cutting and stacking to automated preforming".
Schmidt & Heinzmann uses nesting software to calculate the optimum cutting plan in advance in order to have as little material waste as possible. The textile fibre reinforcement semi-finished products are then cut to size on a cutting table. Which cutting technology (polygon blade, circular blade, ultrasonic blade) is used for this always depends on the material. "Stacking of the individual layer blanks is carried out by means of a variable gripper module, which can hold the blanks both by means of needles and by vacuum suction. These are then processed into preforms. All process steps are fully automated. This ensures exact repeat accuracy and consistently high quality," she explains.
New portal concept with mobile tool table for higher degrees of freedom
Lena Rieth continues: "Our new portal concept was used to create the preforms, which, in conjunction with the existing mobile tool table, offers higher degrees of freedom and thus even more flexibility and application possibilities than before. While a component is fed into the tool via the mobile table and machined there, the portal can carry out an upstream or downstream process step in parallel." This significantly reduces the throughput time. The control software programmed by the company itself offers the adjustability of all process parameters and can be operated intuitively by the customer. "No matter whether cutting, gluing, deburring or drilling - the portal is highly variable and, with the appropriate tool, suitable for a wide variety of applications".
Schmidt & Heinzmann sees a more unstable market situation for mechanical engineering, whereby the changeover and concentration on e-mobility will result in a further high demand potential. "As we position ourselves as the market leader, we support the industry in terms of efficiency and economically oriented innovations. This, in conjunction with the corresponding technologies, enables us to achieve high growth, even under more difficult conditions," says Rieth. "In addition to the processability of materials in conjunction with more stable processes, mechanical engineering must also concentrate on scaling in product manufacture and greater efficiency, because e-mobility in conjunction with lightweight construction requires corresponding concepts and state-of-the-art machines.