Digital, integrative, and additive production
The future of the plastics industry is networked, and this applies equally to polymer research. Networked means both processes and data. The intelligent combination of different technologies, especially with new processing methods such as additive manufacturing, opens up new possibilities in product design. At the same time, the consistent use of information along the entire development and production chain is necessary.
We deal with the three key topics – digitalisation, integrative, and additive production – in order to advance the research and development of polymer materials. Equally important for us is the skilful interlinking of these priorities.
These days, research and development are generating a large amount of data. In our area, information accumulates during the formulation, processing, analysis, and application of polymer materials. To date, however, the evaluation and correlation of data in materials research has been carried out largely by hand, involving a considerable amount of time and personnel. Only a small fraction of this is recorded in a structured way, and used for further development or for instantaneous process optimisation.
This is exactly where we come in. Supported by digital partners, we collect relevant information along the entire research and process chain. We make the acquired data available in a structured form for machine learning and artificial intelligence processing. We use the new digital technology to be faster and better – and at the same time to explore new pathways and approaches to materials research. For example, process-structure-property relationships can be systematically evaluated by using a large number of influencing variables. This creates insights and correlations that would simply not be accessible by conventional means.
In addition, it positions us to unerringly develop and expand the field of intelligent polymer materials into the future. Moreover, information gained during use and recycling not only creates a deeper understanding of materials, it also provides the consumer with significant added value in the form of data gained from plastic-based solutions.
Compared to other, established production processes, additive production offers a multitude of new possibilities. In addition to functional prototypes, even the most complicated component geometries can be realised through tool-free production. Moreover, a high degree of individualisation, short production times, and elemental or layer-by-layer composition are characteristic features of this technology. We have various devices for implementing various additive production processes, such as Digital Light Processing (DLP) and Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF). Through our partners, we also have direct access to several other processes. Furthermore, we have the possibility to produce thermoplastic filaments.
Our focus is on:
- Development of new types of filaments for Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF): Starting from the pellets via compounding and filament extrusion, all the way to the actual printing process, we have the entire FDM process chain covered.
- Development of novel duromers for Digital Light Processing (DLP): Many years of know-how in resin modification allow us to develop high-performance, UV-curing resin systems for the DLP process, and to optimise their printing parameters.
- Analytics and testing for additive manufacturing: A wide range of analytical methods can be used to characterise both processing and product properties. This enables the target-oriented further development of materials.
In the coming months and years, we plan to consistently expand the area of additive manufacturing to include processes for the production of starting materials (powders, filaments, duromers) and printing processes. Before developing new materials, we always first consider the area of application for the additively produced component, and what advantages this offers over other production processes.
In recent decades, different materials have been combined to create components for many applications. The reasons are manifold, and include, for example, cost, design, and mechanical requirements. However, two trends make new concepts in processing necessary – the individualisation and digitisation of components.
It is precisely these two trends that we are addressing, linking different manufacturing technologies and integrating electronic components and sensor technology into plastic products. Newer processes such as additive manufacturing are particularly well-suited for customisation. However, they require sensible integration with other, established processes, to result in a solution for mass customisation that makes sense in terms of quality and cost. At the same time, the embedding of sensors, in the right place and with the right process, is enormously important in order to maintain the functionality of electronic components, and to be able to meaningfully evaluate data from their application.