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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

29th August 2017, UK

Exploiting the potential of HP-SMC

A consortium of international companies working to develop the next generation of high-performance sheet moulding compound (HP-SMC) processes and products has been established around the Aachen Centre for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) at RWTH Aachen, in Germany.

The consortium will outline the goals of a new 12-month joint market and technology study on HP-SMC to all interested parties and potential new members at a kick-off meeting in Aachen on September 12, 2017.

During an information event in May 2017, the AZL workgroup on HP-SMC together with companies interested in the study discussed and sharpened its content. © AZL Aachen GmbH

The AZL combines the expertise of eight partner institutes with 750 scientists on the RWTH Aachen Campus and an international partner network of more than 70 international companies involved in lightweight production.

Traditional SMC is based on a combination of chopped glass strands and filled polyester resin in sheet form. Processing SMC by compression or injection moulding produces bodywork or structural automotive components in large industrial volumes and the prepreg contains all the components needed to mould the final part – resin, reinforcement, filler, catalyst and low-profile additives – in a malleable and non-tacky sheet.

In addition to allowing the cost efficient, high volume automated production of composite parts with limited waste, SMC is also a very flexible process compared to alternatives and the latest HP-SMC products – consisting of short and continuous combinations of carbon and glass fibres with customized resin compounds – represent a major opportunity, especially in automotive lightweighting applications.

Technology spanning the entire SMC process chain is installed at the RWTH Aachen Campus. © Campus GmbH/Steindl

However, HP-SMC value chains are also determined by a high number of interdependencies between material, processing and application properties which represent a challenge.

Trusted

“SMC is without any doubt the composite technology that is trusted by the automotive industry,” says Dr Thierry Renault, manager of partnerships at Faurecia Composite Technologies. “There has been a strong renewed interest in standard SMC and also in its many evolutions and innovations that are now referred to as HP-SMC. The industry needs to clearly define the potential, advantages and drawbacks for new products that can be targeted with these materials.  The AZL platform relies on the strong scientific background of the Aachen University and research institutes and its industrial members to give us a better view of where the market is going.”

For Peter Schmidt, managing director of Polynt in Miehlen, Germany, taking SMC to the next level is vital.

“SMC has a long history at Polynt and we joined the study because the AZL offers us a platform to develop a high-performance version of SMC with enhanced raw materials, recipes and processes,” he says. “This will allow us to open new application areas or to reactivate existing applications. In our view, it is important that at the AZL, members of the entire value chain – from raw material to OEM – are actively involved in this initiative.”

Another member of the consortium, Mahr Metering Systems, based in Göttingen, Germany, is aiming to develop new metering and mixing techniques to replace batch processes with continuous processes based on HP-SMC.

During an information event in May 2017, the AZL workgroup on HP-SMC together with companies interested in the study discussed and sharpened its content. © AZL Aachen GmbH

“The target is to increase both the flexibility of the recipe and constant quality of the production process,” says MD Dr Reiner Karl. “The AZL Platform offers us the opportunity to discuss the requirements of the process with established SMC producers and processors.”

Target oriented

The aim of the joint market and technology study on HP-SMC is to provide in-depth knowledge on applications, technologies and simulation methods. Key challenges, and technological solutions for establishing HP-SMC in markets with high demands in respect of performance, predictability, reliability and costs, have already been identified and will serve as the basis for the elaboration of design guidelines and the establishment of target-oriented development to open up new business opportunities.

The 12-month study involves players along the entire value chain and at the kick-off meeting on September 12, key materials and applications as well as calculations and production technologies will be discussed.

The scope and content of the HP-SMC study have been developed in close collaboration with the industrial AZL Workgroup as one of a number of different joint research and development initiatives to build a ‘toolbox’ for HP-SMC.

www.azl.rwth-aachen.de

www.lightweight-production.com

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