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Maximum efficiency for complex composite processes

At JEC world, which takes place from March 14th to 16th in Paris, ENGEL AUSTRIA will use numerous example products and stage a live demonstration to present pioneering composite applications and offer insights into ongoing development projects. At its Centre for Lightweight Composite Technologies in St. Valentin, Austria, the injection moulding machine manufacturer works closely with partner companies and universities to develop cost-effective processes for the manufacture of high-volume lightweight components.

Live: processing of thermoplastic fabrics by means of extreme thin-wall technology

In the production of notebooks, tablets, smartphones and other hand-held devices, the use of innovative composite materials for housings is key to reducing weight and improving stability. Another aim of the development partnership between ENGEL AUSTRIA, Bond-Laminates of Brilon, Germany (a LANXESS Group company) and LEONHARD KURZ (Fürth, Germany) is to bring about a significant enhancement in production efficiency. At the Bond-Laminates stand (hall 5A, stand J11), the three partner companies will showcase the revolutionary results of their collaboration: the injection moulding production of a highly robust, ready-to-use housing with a high-quality surface by means of extreme thin-wall technology. With a wall thickness of only 0.6 mm, the demonstration part reveals completely new possibilities.

This will be the first time an ENGEL machine has produced components live at JEC world. The highly automated production cell was specifically designed for the material combination of a thermoplastic, continuous fibre reinforced semi-finished part (Tepex) and IMD film developed and patented by Bond-Laminates and LEONHARD KURZ. For the in-mould decoration of thermoplastic composite components in large-scale production, the system solution integrates three processing technologies: ENGEL organomelt for shaping and functionalising continuous-fibre-reinforced semi-finished thermoplastic products (thermoplastic fabrics) in the injection moulding process, ENGEL variomelt for optimising the surface quality via variothermal mould temperature control, and in-mould decoration (IMD) for the optical and functional refinement of the surface finish directly in the mould. The heart of the production cell is an ENGEL insert 500V/130 single injection moulding machine with a roll-to-roll IMD unit, an ENGEL easix six-axis robot, which takes over the entire handling of the semi-finished and finished parts, and an infrared oven which was also developed and built by ENGEL for preheating the thermoplastic fabrics.

“We can only achieve optimum levels in terms of part properties and production efficiency where all materials and system components are precisely coordinated to one another from the start,” stresses Peter Egger, Director of the ENGEL Centre for Lightweight Composite Technologies. Even where machine manufacturers, material experts and other companies work together on process development, ENGEL customers can expect turnkey solutions from a single source. ENGEL takes overall responsibility in its capacity as general contractor, which accelerates project planning and commissioning in many cases.

In-situ polymerisation and injection moulding combined

As an injection moulding machine manufacturer with a very high degree of automation and system solutions expertise, ENGEL understands the key success factors that support the cost-effective production of fibre-reinforced plastic composites in large quantities. This ultimately led to the establishment of the Centre for Lightweight Composite Technologies. Current development projects cover a great many areas, from the processing of thermoplastic semi-finished products (thermoplastic fabrics and tapes) and thermoset compression moulding materials such as SMC to reactive technologies using thermoset and thermoplastic systems such as HP-RTM and the in-situ polymerisation of ε-Caprolactam.

At its stand (hall 5A, stand P49), ENGEL will use components and videos to illustrate the latest position on all of these topics while offering insights into future processing possibilities and market prospects.

Of particular interest this year is the field of reactive technology. For the first time, ENGEL has worked with its partners to implement an integrated and highly automated process for the in-situ polymerisation of ε-Caprolactam to form composite carrier structures which are then functionalised via injection moulding. This represents a major milestone on the road to series production. Representing the wide range of possible applications, the first pre-series in-situ multi-component process has been designed for the production of lightweight shovels. “We believe in-situ polymerisation has a great deal of potential, both in the production of technical composite parts and the area of automotive lightweight construction,” says Egger.

An ENGEL v-duo vertical machine with two differently temperature-controlled moulds, built by Schöfer, Schwertberg, Austria, will be used to produce the shovels. One cavity was set up for the reactive process and the other handled the injection moulding process. Dry, pre-shaped reinforcing fabrics are inserted into the first cavity and infiltrated with the reactive matrix. To do this, the solid ε-Caprolactam is melted and metered in the reactive unit. Thanks to the monomer's low viscosity in the molten state, the dry fibres can be wetted particularly well. A highly resilient composite is thus formed when polymerising to polyamide 6. Since reactive processing takes place below the polymer's melting temperature, the composite semi-finished product can be transferred to the second cavity immediately after it was produced where it is functionalised by injection moulding. Reinforcing ribs and contours of short glass fibre-reinforced PA 6 are injected to achieve this. Polymerisation and injection moulding take place parallel to each other.

Since the presentation of the first prototype machine, ENGEL has continuously optimised the system components and developed a completely new reactive unit that can be combined with different types of ENGEL machines. ENGEL was the first supplier on the market to melt and process solid monomers according to need. The advantages of this are significantly reduced thermal load, and therefore higher product quality.

With its v-duo series, ENGEL has developed a relatively compact, energy-efficient machine specifically for fibre composite applications, and one which facilitates particularly cost-effective production solutions. Its vertical clamping unit can be accessed from all four sides instead of just two.

 

Expanded possibilities at the Centre for Lightweight Composite Technologies

The St. Valentin site is also home to ENGEL’s large-scale machine manufacturing plant, where machines in the duo, e-duo and v-duo series are built. As part of ongoing site expansion work, more space will be created at the Centre for Lightweight Composite Technologies. “We now have more capacity for development work and customer trials,” says Peter Egger. Alongside an v-duo 700, a second, even larger v-duo with clamping force of 17,000 kN has been put into operation. To facilitate a very wide range of applications and technologies it is equipped for traditional injection moulding and reactive process technology, fitted with an ENGEL easix multi-axis robot and may be combined with the IR oven developed by ENGEL. The systems of the neighbouring technical centre for large-scale machines are also available to the lightweight construction experts of ENGEL for (mould) trials on horizontal systems.

ENGEL at JEC world 2017: Hall 5A, atand P49
and at the Bond-Laminates stand: Hall 5A, stand J11

Representing the wide range of possible applications, the first pre-series in-situ multi-component process has been designed for the production of lightweight shovels.

It will be the first time an ENGEL machine has produced components live at JEC world: highly robust, ready-to-use housings with a high-quality surface by means of extreme thin-wall technology.

The ENGEL v-duo machine series was designed specifically for fibre composite applications.

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