Aachen University center will focus on production of lightweight structures

The Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) in Aachen, Germany, will research materials and processes for high-volume manufacturing serving the oil and gas, water, infrastructure, construction and automotive end markets.

The Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) of RWTH Aachen University announced its founding partners at a press event at JEC Europe 2013 (Paris). Under the auspices of the Excellence Initiative funded by the German government, new clusters will be established on the campus of the University of RWTH in Aachen over the next 10 years: 19 new institutions will be set up in several new building complexes.

One of the first institutions on the new campus is the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL), founded by Prof. Dr. Christian Brecher and Prof. Dr. Christian Hopmann, part of the faculty of mechanical engineering. The aim of AZL is to develop the automated production of load- and cost-optimized lightweight components, suitable for mass production and versatile process chains in composite and multi-material design.

Due to the deep expertise at RWTH Aachen, all of the necessary expertise along the entire value chain is within walking distance on the campus assembled around the AZL, where more than 700 scientists are working on production technologies, lightweight materials and applications. The expertise covers the production from carbon and glass fibers, textile preforming, high-volume capable plastics processing, automation, machining and testing for applications including oil and gas, water, infrastructure, construction and automotive engineering.

Dr. Michael Emonts, CEO of AZL, explains that “AZL is set up within the new clusterIntegrative Production Technology, which additionally offers approximately 25,000 m2/269,097 ft2 of laboratory space for 800 scientists, at the Campus Melaten in Aachen. Within the Campus, companies have the possibility to open their own branches or complete development laboratories. The advantage of the direct contact to the staff and the equipment of the excellent research institutes – and especially the close contact to highly qualified students as potential staff after graduation – is already used by major companies from different industrial sectors.”

One of the first projects with the founding partners of AZL is a strategic market and technology study for the next 12 months (starting March 2013) focusing on the evaluation of the technical feasibility for mass production of new applications for lightweight materials to establish the institute’s activities. This study will identify applications, components, distribution channels, number of pieces, economic potential, requirements for materials and process chains in five major market segments.

Some of the members of the new consortium include AFPT, Ashland, DSM, DuPont, EMS Chemie GmbH, EM-Systeme, FA Kümpers, Future Fibres, Gurit, Henkel AG & Co. KgaA, Johnson Controls GmbH, Kegelmann Technik, Lamilux, LANXESS, Laserline GmbH, Lürssen Werft, Mahr Metering, Opel, Röchling, SABIC, Siemens, TenCate, ThyssenKrupp AG, Ticona and Toyota Motor Europe.

Michael Effing, CEO of AMAC, a consulting group that supports the AZL, says "Many of the current mainly thermoset-driven applications still have significant labor costs and we see them step by step moving to Middle East and Asia. We need to ensure that this technology of lightweight automotive applications can stay in Europe and that is why we build on the promising value of integrated manufacturing of composite systems at the AZL."

Together with the opening of the AZL, the Composite Academy was also introduced. Aimed at training and education, the Composite Academy will offer training for technicians, lab workers, engineers, and managers. Participants will be able to earn a specific education in the field of composite technologies and extra-occupational education, to counteract the current shortage of experts in the field, says the group, and should be launched in 2015.