The 2014 Innovation Award of the German Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia will go to Professor Christian Hopmann, head of the Institute of Plastics Processing (IKV) in Industry and the Skilled Crafts at RWTH Aachen University, for the development of gap impregnation technology.
The prize, which is worth €100,000, is said to be the most important science award of the state of NRW. Svenja Schulze, NRW Science Minister, presented Prof. Hopmann with the award at the Art Collection NRW in Düsseldorf on March 10.
The gap impregnation process reduces cycle times in the processing of fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) by up to 75 percent compared to conventional processes. The resin for impregnating the reinforcing fibers flows extremely fast through a gap into the cavity with little resistance. Through the subsequent mold-closing motion, the fibers are saturated within just a few seconds. As a result, it is now said to be possible to impregnate large-format, high-performance parts in less than 60 seconds and thus achieve cycle times of less than 3 minutes.
The development of gap impregnation was driven at IKV via a number of research projects. In one project of Industrial Joint Research (IGF), sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi) via the Confederation of Industrial Research Associations (AiF), the process was first developed on a laboratory scale. This was followed by a larger project of the German Research Foundation (DFG) in which the main principles were investigated. This was followed by a project with a company consortium that resulted in the development of a CFRP engine hood. A further IGF project on gap impregnation dealt with improving the surface quality up to Class-A quality specified by auto manufacturers.
The CFRP engine hood is the result of extensive research work and, through the gap impregnation process, can be manufactured fully automatically and with integrated functions in a cycle time of 15 minutes. The former time-intensive process of injecting the resin has been reduced to 45 seconds, despite the large dimensions of the part. The CFRP engine hood has a surface that can be directly coated. It also offers a weight advantage of around 60 percent compared with the reference steel engine hood. The gap impregnation unit has been installed in IKV's Composite pilot plant, and is now ready for upscaling to commercial application.
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