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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

23rd November 2017, UK

Positive results from the MAI Carbon cluster

Since 2012, the MAI Carbon cluster – an initiative of Carbon Composites eV involving companies located around the German city triangle of Munich, Augsburg and Ingolstadt – has been involved in some 35 separate R&D projects. The aim has been to develop high volume production processes for carbon fibre composites and to cut the cost of them by as much as 90%, while also supporting SMEs and generally promoting the industry.

The cluster has been funded with €40 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research over a five-year period, with an equal amount provided by the project partners.

MAI Carbon has been involved in some 35 separate R&D projects. © MAI Carbon

It has seen Audi and BMW working together, despite initial reservations, and involved other key players including Airbus, BASF, Eurocopter, SGL and Voith among a total of 114 partners, over 50% of them SMEs.

Technical targets

Providing details of some of the projects at the recent Go Carbon Fibre conference in Munich, MAI Carbon director Tjark von Reden said that the technical targets of the major projects were to achieve cycle times of less than a minute, to reduce process costs by 90%, to increase efficiency during the production processes by more than 60% and achieve recycling rates of more than 80%, along with reduced wastage rates.

Success stories have included the Mai Fo project, involving Airbus, BASF and BMW in the development of a process chain for combining thermoset carbon parts with thermoplastic films. The special joining process that has been developed allows for a high class surface to be created, which also acts as a moisture and corrosion barrier. The integration of circuits has also been explored and such parts have significant advantages in terms of cost and weight.

MAI Carbon cluster is an initiative of Carbon Composites eV. © Carbon Composites eV

In the Mai Skelett project, BMW and SGL worked with a number of partners on the development of weight-saving roof parts to achieve properties better than the current parts.

“This project was really successful with a reduction in process costs of 75% and that of tooling costs by 80%,” said von Reden. “The cycle time achieved for producing the parts was just 75 seconds.”

Diamonds

Airbus Helicopters and BMW also worked with partners GFD and Hufschmied in the Mai ProCut project, involving the development of diamond cutters to increase efficiency in the processing of carbon composites. Seven years ago, when BMW embarked on its i3 project, the company decided to use water cutting for parts, but the diamond coating cutting tools subsequently developed can increase feeding speeds by 100%. They have a geometrically-defined cutting edge and are sharpened by a plasma process. As a consequence processing costs have been reduced by 90%.

There is solid evidence that the activities of the MAI Carbon cluster have had a very positive effect on the productivity and profitability of Germany’s composites industry. There’s also no doubt that it has fostered a new spirit of co-operation in connecting the companies involved – over 300 further projects involving them working together have subsequently been identified.

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