When it comes to lightweight construction, there are essentially two options: Either you improve the material to such an extent that less of it is required, or you reduce the weight of the material through hybrid design. This represents a challenge for materials research, which is why the Open Hybrid LabFactory (OHLF) in Wolfsburg, Germany, has been developing hybrid components for mass production for nearly two years. The goal is to find the optimal combination of various lightweight materials made from steel and plastic.
Research for lightweight materials construction
Manufacturers and producers need to pool their knowledge in order to produce and implement these new steel/plastic materials. Alongside thyssenkrupp, BASF, the injection molding machine manufacturer Engel, the press manufacturer Siempelkamp, the automotive supplier Magna, and Volkswagen are all represented at the OHLF. The Fraunhofer and Braunschweig University of Technology are coordinating the project, and the German Ministry for Education and Research is funding the lightweight construction campus.
thyssenkrupp is taking part in the development of innovative steel materials. The company is testing the performance of its predevelopment projects in Wolfsburg and preparing them for series production. “Our goal is to bring lightweight materials construction into mass production – with an extremely high level of reliability on the manufacturing line,” says Dr. Lothar Patberg, Head of the Innovation department at thyssenkrupp Steel. At the OHLF there is, for instance, a hybrid form press, which is also used for industrial manufacturing. “We also need to develop new machines and tools for hybrid design,” Patberg explains. “The OHLF should enable us to take a holistic view. That’s the only way we can reap the maximum benefits of steel/plastic design.”
Intelligently combining steel and plastic
Research is being carried out on topics such as material combinations in which a light plastic component is applied to a sturdy steel material. This creates a steel product with a coupling layer. Later on, carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) or composite materials, for instance, can be attached to this through known processes, such as injection molding or pressing. To facilitate this, the metal is subjected to special preprocessing that activates it and enables a permanent bond to be formed with the plastic. thyssenkrupp developed the technology processes required for this.
Lightweight construction represents a particularly promising method of staying within the EU-stipulated carbon dioxide emission level limits when manufacturing vehicles with combustion engines. The lightweight hybrids made of steel and plastic are particularly well suited for use in the front of the vehicle, or for dashboard crossmember support. In the future, a steel profile with injected plastic components could be manufactured in a single step and be used to integrate many different components. The Open Hybrid LabFactory in Wolfsburg is working to open up this kind of opportunity and more, so that the new lightweight materials can soon go into series production.