Customer orientated and sustainable: A development platform facilitates tailored thermoplastics

The concept »Industrie 4.0« stands for the fourth industrial revolution – a new step of digital organisation and control of the recycling chain over the whole life cycle of products. The virtual network makes it possible to collate all the relevant information of all the pertaining factors during the production process of a component, which have an impact on the properties as well as the consumption of resources and costs. Scientists at the Fraunhofer Pilot Plant Centere for Polymer Synthesis and Processing PAZ in Schkopau, a joint venture of the Fraunhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems IMWS in Halle (Saale) as well as the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam-Golm, are working on such a digitally-guided process chain for components made of thermoplastic blends and composites (Mix and Blend Materials).

fraunhofer Spritzguss Bauteil
© Fraunhofer IMWS
Filling process simulation of an injection-moulded component.

A virtual development platform is to be created in the research project »DigiLab« as a contribution to »Industrie 4.0« in the plastics industry, in which the formulation as well as the processing of tailored thermoplastics can be simulated. Process chain simulation as well as material modelling is considered here. Aided by modelling and simulation tools, the microstructure and property development of thermoplastic blends and composites during preparation and processing are analysed and identified.

Firstly, it is necessary to precisely research the scientific principles for the formulation and processing of modified and strengthened thermoplastics. Specifically, a process chain simulation is developed for this, which shows the process-dependent microstructural property relationships along the process chain. Therefore, forecasting of the plastic’s microstructural quality at individual points of the production process should be made possible and what the material’s properties are at these relevant points.

The process chain, which has to be considered here, for thermoplastic material consists in essence of the combination of the compounding process (the preparation of plastics through the mixing-in of filling agents and additives) by means of single and double screw extruders (machines, in which plastics are melted and shaped) und the injection moulding process. The aim of the research project is to develop a virtual platform, which shows these two partial processes, previously looked at separate from each other, in an overarching process chain simulation, which is to be used in particular for the optimisation of direct production processing. This is the basis for the production of process-dependent, customised and multi-component thermoplastics. »We expect a significant reduction of the development cycles for new formulations and components in the plastics industry. We are collating comprehensive data and are developing simulation software for this«, says Dr Patrick Hirsch, project leader at Fraunhofer IMWS. The companies Exipnos, AppsolutEinfach and Ematik are participating in the research project as associated partners.

In order to be able to carry out the best design and intelligent management of the processing steps for dosing, compounding and injection moulding in future, all relevant parameters along the material and process development for the manufacture of thermoplastics are evaluated. The successful realisation of this development platform would make an efficient solution for the virtual design of plastics manufacturing processes available to the plastics industry. »Our findings and the development platform thus created could be utilised by many plastics manufacturers but also by users, such as for example the chemical industry, for material development or systems and machine construction for the design of processing plants« states Dr Patrick Hirsch evaluating the project, which shows the possibilities hidden in the digitalisation of material development promoted by Fraunhofer in the Materials Data Space project.

If the project is successfully implemented, Fraunhofer PAZ is planning to build up a competence centre at the Schkopau site for the virtual design of plastics production processes in the plastics industry.

Fraunhofer Polymer Entwicklungsplattform Thermoplaste
The shear stress can be seen on the left and the polymer melt flow in a double screw extruder on the right.