The newly announced ZF Composites Tech Centre at Schweinfurt is set to revolutionise the volume manufacturing of fibre-reinforced plastics (FRP), paving the way for new lightweight products into the future.
Set to advance all areas of the ZF Group, the facility will cover an area of 400 square metres, with room for future expansion.
At the heart of the ZF Composites Tech Centre is a press, which can be used to produce components from duroplastic materials via the Resin Transfer Moulding (RTM) process, with the setup ideal for producing prototype parts for passenger and commercial vehicles.
The Tech Centre will also utilise a high-pressure injection unit for various resin hardening systems, while other support systems will include a robot, as well as infrared and tempering furnaces.
Since the beginning of 2012, ZF has invested a total of EUR 3.1 million in infrastructure for the Centre, which will be headed by Dr Ignacio Lobo Casanova, initially leading four engineers.
“In the past few years, we have established vast basic knowledge and gained experience in lightweight design and we have increasingly been using fiber-reinforced plastics for this purpose,” says Michael Hankel, member of the ZF Board of Management responsible for the Car Powertrain Technology and Car Chassis Technology divisions as well as Corporate Production.
“With the ZF Composites Tech Center, we are now focusing specifically on the process technologies for volume production using these materials, and we want to make this knowledge available throughout the Group.”
The centre will have several tasks, the first of which being research of different RTM processes, and developing the hardware to produce improved products.
“Part of our basic research work aims at making samples available from different material systems in order to determine the corresponding material characteristics,” says Dr Ignacio Lobo Casanova.
“These again are stored as material models in a simulation process chain, in order to be able to use simulations in the future to make product and process development leaner.”
Other roles for the Centre include investigating the bonding methods used in RTM production, as well as being integrated into existing ZF projects developing lightweight design concepts.
Some of these projects currently on the drawing board include passenger car components, such as a lightweight suspension strut and knuckle design, as well as a wheel-guiding transverse spring.
The premise of the knuckle is to produce a part that weighs half as much as the current steel component, with the FRP transverse spring showing a weight saving of 15 per
For commercial vehicles, a four-point truck chassis link is being developed by ZF engineers, with projections showing a potential weight saving of 25 percent over the current cast item.
Over the entire ZF Group, there are approximately 30 development engineers who are currently working in projects where FRP materials experience is vital, with all of these staff set to take advantage of the ZF Composites Tech Centre’s research.
“One essential additional task of the ZF Composites Tech Center is the Group-wide transfer of knowledge as well as consultancy and qualification for all ZF divisions and other development locations,” said Dr Michael Heselhaus, project manager in charge of setting up the ZF Composites Tech Center.
The new Centre won’t be solely focused on producing new vehicle components, as the FRP technology is hoped to enhance tooling for the production of several items, including large scale sheet materials, and plastics injection molding.