However, a real breakthrough requires composite parts to become competitive in costs to materials like steel and aluminum, says Dr. Kai Fischer, Scientific Director at the Institute of Plastics Processing (IKV) at RWTH Aachen University and Director of Production Technology at the Aachen Center for integrative Lightweight Production (AZL).
“Instead of asking the automotive industry to pay more for lightweighting, we need to offer composites as a cost reduction material with the additional benefit of light weight,” he says.
That is exactly what AZL is committed to. AZL’s approach is to bring together the expertise in materials-, processing- and production-technology. With a specialized focus on composite-based lightweight technologies, AZL works with an extensive network of research institutes and industrial partners from the entire lightweight production value chain to increase the material efficiency of composites, which is the key to cost reduction.
When it comes to the cost-saving potential of thermoplastic composites, there’s a case to be made in terms of integration with injection molding to add additional functional elements. Thermoplastics are also easier to process for the downstream that is used to injection molding, because material properties are not so dependent on the processing compared to cross-linking thermosets. To further increase the material efficiency of thermoplastic composites, however, the key is to manufacture laminates in near net shape that reduces scraps and ensures load optimization based on what processors need in the parts. “Material suppliers have the economy of scale to utilize the potential in scrap reduction and load optimization to get costs down by providing tailored laminates,” says Dr. Fischer.
Different materials offer different benefits, which is why holistic thinking and collaboration along the value chain is so important. It requires a multi-material design approach that supports material optimization by using the right material in the right place to achieve performance improvements, weight savings and cost reductions all at once. Dr. Fischer says.
“My vision is one day we will have composites all around us in an integrated multi-material system that uses composites because they make parts better and cheaper.”
“Like every other industry, technologies in the composites industry are emerging so fast that even big companies are not capable of developing every technology alone,” says Michael Schmidt, one of the two Co-CEOs of Covestro’s thermoplastic composites business. “The biggest potential for innovation lies in the entire value chain working together to come up with disruptive solutions. That’s why Covestro is committed to innovation platforms like IKV and AZL to bring composites to the mainstream through cost reduction and integration with other materials.”