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Light products

Lighter products using innovative materials and composites

Demand is increasing for lightweight products and components in industries such as transportation, mechanical engineering, construction and consumer products. This demand is a response to social and technological trends in terms of energy efficiency, performance, freedom of form, functionality and long-term cost-effectiveness. Lighter products can be achieved by adapting the design or by using alternative, light-weight materials with the same properties, including composite materials.

Labs focus on the development of lighter products using other materials

Experts at the Sirris composites lab work on innovations using fibre-reinforced plastics. The team of experts at SLC-Lab co-operates with KU Leuven and the Ghent University on specific projects. This co-operation combines the efforts, expertise and infrastructure of all three partners. When developing composite products an infinite number of product geometries and material combinations are possible. A range of process technology can be applied. The objective of the SLC-Lab is to provide support when developing innovative composite products, including the corresponding prototypes. SLC-Lab also provides their expertise in monitoring and optimising production parameters. The lab was also involved in various projects in 2019, including CompositeLoop, which was completed, and CompositeReloaded, during which various demos were set up.

 

The Hybrids Lab develops products using combinations of plastics and composites or metals. Its objective is the rational application of materials to make the end products as lightweight as possible. The use of hybrid materials in a single product ensures the availability of properties and functionalities where required.

Combination of 3D printed and traditional components

Combining metal plates or thermoplastic composites with complex 3D-printed elements can be of importance for certain industrial applications. As part of the work of the Product Development Hub, more specifically that of the Hybrids Lab, Sirris has been making significant progress with hybrid freeform printed pieces over the last few months.

 

In order to print such components, Sirris uses a six-axis robot and an extrusion head, which they adjusted to optimise the procedure. Plastic granules are loaded into the head, to make use of as wide a range of materials as possible.

 

The first few single-wall mode products soon evolved into complex products, once we had found the solutions to a number of problems.

Lower energy consumption when consolidating composites

In order to reduce the carbon footprint of thermoplastic composites and in conjunction with the Hybrids Lab –part of our Product Development Hub, Sirris has developed and validated a particularly cost-effective consolidation method for these materials, based on the vacuum bagging procedure. 

 

The concept is based on splitting the phases of the thermal cycle, made possible by purchasing an energy-efficient drying oven with an innovative concept, which was further adapted by Sirris. In the standard vacuum consolidation cycle, all materials are placed in a cold oven, while the method designed by Sirris allows the preheating of the drying oven, keeping the higher temperature constant over multiple application cycles. The advantage is considerable: the heating phase consumes most of the required energy, not only to heat up the product being consolidated, but also to heat up the oven itself. The cooling phase is significant, inasmuch as it takes a long time to cool the oven in a standard cycle. In this specific case, however, it was not included in the study, to avoid any effect on energy consumption.

 

Validation tests demonstrated that an energy gain of approximately 60% could be achieved.