This year the awards were presented in three categories and the winners were:

  • Innovative Products/Applications: the Institut für Verbundwerkstoffe GmbH (IVW) and its partner Stadco for the development of the off-axis-stable crash absorber made from thermoplastic composite;
     
  • Innovative Processes/Methods: New Era Materials and its partner the Leichtbauzentrum Sachsen (Saxony Centre for Lightweight Construction) for developing processes for the manufacture of thermosetting composite structures; and
     
  • Research/Science: the Institute of Textile Machinery and High Performance Material Technology (ITM) at Technische Universität Dresden together with its partner Daimler AG for the automated preforming of highly complex geometries.

In addition, an award for Exceptionally Attractive FRP Employer was presented to OKE Group GmbH, a plastics processing company which specialises in injection moulding, extrusion and FRP technology.

'Crash muffin'

The Institute for Composite Materials (IVW) and automotive supplier Stadco have developed a crash absorber made from thermoplastic composite for use in automobiles.

The IVW began work on this product in 2011 and has registered the design for patent approval. The crash absorber, affectionately known as the 'crash muffin,' is initially intended for use in cars, but it could also be used in the aviation and packaging industries.

The 3-D crash muffin is formed from a 2-D fibre reinforced thermoplastic sheet in a single stage forming process that requires very little investment. The corrugated crash absorber is formed in a few seconds.

Currently, the majority of automobiles still use metal crash absorbers. Composite components for use in crash protection are significantly lighter than their metal counterparts. The IVW technology now makes it possible to manufacture composite crash absorbers simply, cheaply and without the need for joining processes.

Resin powder moulding and thermoset sheet forming

Specialist materials company New Era Materials and Leichtbau-Zentrum Sachsen GmbH (LZS) have developed the resin powder moulding (RPM) and thermoset sheet forming (TSF) processes to enable the production of high-performance components using simple machinery and process technology in extremely short cycle times.

The processes are based on modified epoxy resins which are solid at room temperature and have thermoplastic processing properties due to the use of special additives. Depending on the process selected, the resins are initially processed either into powders or semi-finished sheets with continuous fibre reinforcement. On heating, the matrix material in the semi-finished product melts and can be further processed. When the temperature is raised further, the resin cures very quickly. This eliminates the need for expensive metering and injection technology.

Production of the first components for the railway industry using the TSF process is expected to commence this year.

Automated preforming

In a joint research project, the Institute of Textile Machinery and High Performance Material Technology (ITM) at Technische Universität Dresden and Daimler AG have developed a material guidance system for preforming highly complex geometries with bonded structures under large volume production conditions.

Using a material guidance system that can be adapted to the needs of specific components, the researchers were able to influence the orientation of the fibres in components during draping and thus suppress macroscopic faults. The greatest challenge they faced was in developing the necessary material guidance strategy specific to individual layers that would improve existing processes. Until now, material guidance strategies have been capable of suppressing folds and distortions in the semi-finished product. However, these also increase the faults resulting from friction between the individual layers when draping a number of layers. The material guidance system developed by Daimler and ITM counteracts this problem.

The process uses active intermediate metal sheets with integrated piezo-ceramics during the draping process. The semi-finished reinforcing materials are layered between the metal sheets. The upper tool is guided through one of the openings and drapes the layers onto the lower tool. From the periphery, it is thus possible to create a retention force specific to the individual layer using a piezo bending transducer and also to reduce the friction between the layers by stimulating a periodic oscillation. This makes it possible to achieve significant improvements in quality.

The new method also makes it possible to control the orientation of stitching in the preform in order to achieve the most appropriate stitching alignment in the component.

From an early stage, the researchers focused on ensuring that the material guidance system could be implemented in existing forming machines as well as on enabling the forming process to be manipulated from the periphery. The system can therefore be implemented with low investment costs.

The process has already been used successfully in producing a complex segment of the boot lid of a Mercedes Benz.

Process times of well under 5 minutes have been achieved and the technique is also expected to result in a lowering of the rejection rate by 40% in the series application.