Tailored process technology: the new basis for resource-efficient use of fiber reinforced plastics in large-scale industrial series applications
Lightweight components made of fiber reinforced composites are becoming increasingly important in many sectors. The automotive industry in particular is intensively searching for ways to efficiently use these components in large-scale industrial series production. As a first step in the manufacturing of fiber reinforced components, called the “preforming” process, preforms of dry fiber materials are constructed. In the next process step, the preforms are soaked in resin and hardened. The result is a composite made of fiber and plastic that has outstanding mechanical properties.
Figure: 'Press-preforming' of a car roof
The “preforming” process is one of the major cost drivers along the entire process chain. With today’s method, flat textile semi-finished goods, such as fiber mats or tissues, are first made from the base material, called “rovings” (fiber bundles with 1,000 - 60,000 individual fibers). In subsequent steps, these are cut and formed into their final three-dimensional shape, a technique called “press-preforming” (see figure 1). Depending on the component geometry, a large amount of waste can be generated during the process. Approximately 20 - 70 % of the material may be wasted, meaning that an already uneconomical and inefficient process becomes even more so.
The MAI Pop project addresses these problems. The aim of the project is to develop a new type of preform technology, which, through innovative approaches, enables fast production of preforms directly from the base material and generates minimal waste. Tailoring the process technology to the component will also considerably increase efficiency and cut costs drastically. The unavoidable, but small amount of residual waste material will be handed over to the MAI Recycling Leading-Edge Cluster project. There, synergies are harnessed and the waste material is then treated and reintroduced into the process as a raw material. The combination of these individual steps, along with the development of innovative preforming methods, presents great potential to significantly improve the production of components made from fiber reinforced materials both from an environmental and economic standpoint, thus enabling this material to be cost-efficiently used in large-scale industrial series applications.