In the program, technology suitable for manufacturing continuous fiber-reinforced composite products and finite element simulation for designing them is developed.
”The idea came in 2016, from one of our former student, Molnár Péter, the managing director of HD Composite Zrt., and a professor of our department, Karger-Kocsis József, who deceased last year. The professor worked a great deal on the reactive production of polyamides at the beginning of his career, which came into the limelight again, as thermoplastic resin injection has appeared in the production of composites. Molnár Péter was working for an automotive company in Russia at the time, so he knew well the needs of the industry and had up-to-date knowledge of automation. After setting the most important goals, the consortium was set up, and we wrote the successful application for a grant together”, said academician Tibor Czigány, professor of the Department of Polymer Engineering at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, the project leader of the project at the University.
Tibor Czigány (left) and Gábor Szebényi are examining the part produced from polyamide in two steps, by overmolding
In December 2016, The Department of Polymer Engineering, the MTA–BME Research Group for Composite Science and Technology MTA-BME operating in the Department, and their consortium partners, Evopro Systems Engineering Kft, eCon Engineering Kft, and the Polymer Chemistry Research Group of the Research Centre for Natural Sciences. eCon Engineering Kft later took over the leadership of the consortium. The goal of the project is to develop a novel technology suitable for mass-producing continuous fiber-reinforced composite products and the tools for finite element simulation that helps designing them.
As electric cars are spreading, weight reduction came to the forefront in the automotive industry because of the large weight of batteries. One of the simplest ways to achieve this is to use more polymer composite parts in cars as they have a considerably lower density than metals currently used. This can be achieved by using polymer composites not only in cover and aerodynamic elements but also in load-bearing structures, including inner parts of the car and body panels. Load-bearing structures require continuous fiber-reinforced composites, reinforced in designed directions, in addition to short fiber-reinforced composites. The production of such fabric-reinforced composites posed new challenges for manufacturers: the reinforcing structures cannot be impregnated with conventionally used thermoplastic polymers used in mass production, and the cross-linked systems currently used for this purpose cannot provide short enough cycle times and simple recycling. In the research project, the researchers respond to the needs of the automotive industry by developing the application of a novel composite matrix material, å-caprolactam, in the NVKP_16-1-2016-0046 project, financed by NKFIH. å-caprolactam is similar to the monomers and oligomers of thermoset polymers in that it has low viscosity and can easily soak the reinforcement. However, after polymerization, it can also be easily recycled by remelting, similarly to thermoplastics.
The project involves more than 20 people of the Department of Polymer Engineering, and several dozen from the consortium partners.
Tibor Czigány said about the usefulness of the project: the researchers and students working in the project gain experience through actual industrial tasks and build connections with company and research institute partners. The results can be incorporated into the curriculum, so it can provide up-to-date knowledge to university students. They can also be published, thus improving the recognition of the department and the university. Several PhD dissertations, MSc and BSc theses will be written in connection with the research project, which means that students can work on current problems, and can learn about the most modern technologies, materials, and test methods. Also, the project made it possible for the department to purchase modern equipment, including four-channel acoustic emission equipment, an optical fiber strain mearuement device, and a cutting machine.
”I perform the daily coordination of the project at the Department of Polymer Engineering, which is a real challenge due to the wide variety of tasks. We basically work in 5 distinct areas”, said Gábor Szebényi, assistant professor of the Department, project coordinator. He added, ”The first area is materials development, in which I take part as well. Here, the greatest challenge is the reproducible processing of the new, very sensitive system, and the optimization of the parameters. Here, our most important partners are the chemists of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the technology experts of HD Composite Zrt. Another part of the project is the automated processing of reinforcements. Péter Tamás-Bényei of the MTA-BME Research Group for Composite Science leads an enthusiastic team, who develop forming technologies and assess the preforms manufactured (mechanical properties, geometry, and permeability) in cooperation with HD Composite Zrt. Tasks include the development of processing technologies (weldability, cutting, adhesive bonding), but the area of overmolding and function integration József Gábor Kovács is supervising is also important to note. And last but not least, we gain a great deal of experience performing the mechanical testing and simulation of composite structures in cooperation with eCon Engineering Kft.”
An important part of the project is special tests (eccentric bending test – upper left, fabric air permeability measurement – upper right, tensile test with full-field optical strain measurement – bottom left, fiber-matrix adhesion test – bottom right)
”Our consortium received special recognition this year. In one of the most important annual international exhibitions of the composite industry, the JEC WORLD exhibition in Paris, we won the innovation award in the automotive procedure category. Our competitors included consortiums, such as the Hyundai Motors – Mitsubishi Chemicals, and Mubea Carbo Tech – Porsche consortiums”, said associate professor Tamás Bárány, the head of the Department of Polymer Engineering. He also stated that this award is very prestigious: ”we are mentioned together with the largest European research institutes, car companies, and car company suppliers”.
The JEC innovation award won by the project partners in Paris
The participants of the project would like to continue working together. One way of doing this can be cooperating with automotive suppliers and companies to prepare the technology for mass production and putting it on the market. Currently, negotiations are underway with several large companies. Another possibility of moving forward is through other supported projects. The current consortium is continuously searching for possibilities. In a VKE project started last year they continue to cooperate with Zoltek Zrt in developing the application of the T-RTM technology; in this project, they focus on carbon fiber-reinforced structures containing local reinforcement.
– GI –
Photo: Department of Polymer Engineering, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering