Breakthrough Creates New Opportunities Thermoset Composites

At a joint press conference held during the Composites Europe show, a breakthrough in direct compounding technology - from raw materials to composites and parts - was presented that is set to extend the production of thermoset composites into high volume, complex and large parts and open up new market opportunities for composite applications that are not feasible with today's thermoset processing technologies.

This unique technology which entails both a new compounding process and new raw material developments is the result of many years of research and development in direct compounding technology, and is being realised through a strategic cooperation by Dieffenbacher, the leading manufacturer of plant and machinery for forming fibre-reinforced plastics, Fraunhofer ICT the major German-based industrial research institute and DSM Composite Resins, the European market leader in structural resins.

For the new technology DSM Composite Resins has contributed resin formulation expertise and know-how including the development of a dedicated technology-enabling product portfolio of non-thickening resins. Dieffenbacher has developed the hardware systems and expertise and ICT has provided dedicated R&D and commercial-scale pilot processing capabilities.

The new direct compounding technology is designed for the production of large structural parts and is set to open up new application opportunities for lightweight thermoset composites replacing conventional metal materials such as aluminium and steel. It is particularly suited for the production of geometrically complex large parts greater than 3sq.m in high volumes of approximately 700,000 units per annum.

Heinrich Ernst, Director of the Composites Division of Dieffenbacher, commented: "We previewed this exciting and innovative new technology at the JEC show earlier this year and we are delighted to see this project now come to fruition and be officially unveiled here at the Composites Europe. It is a revolutionary technology that will create enhanced value and new opportunities for the composite manufacturing industry and we are highly confident about its potential."

The new thermoset direct compunding technology can produce moulded thermoset compound materials in a continuous and flexible extrusion process. Key features include a computerized dosing system yielding better quality consistency and reproducible fibre impregnation. Therefore the process results in shorter cycle times through just-in-time production and eliminates a range of incremental steps in between such as paste mixing, thickening, storage and steps compared to conventional thermoset compounding processes, saving time and making part manufacturing more economical.

"This expands the boundaries of traditional thermoset composite parts production," said Wilfrid Gambade, Business Director Composite Resins Europe and Global Market, DSM Composite Resins. "And it will create opportunities for parts manufacturers in new application areas in key markets like automotive industry but also energy or Building and Infrastructure, producing high strength, lightweight and complex parts in high volumes, faster and more economically than before."

Fraunhofer ICT Deputy Director, Prof. Frank Henning added: "This has been an intense and highly productive research and development effort, and reflects the combined commitment and motivation of three industry leaders in DSM, Dieffenbacher and Fraunhofer ICT to remain at the forefront of composites innovation."

The three partners are now preparing the first production line which is planed to be operational in the second quarter of 2010.

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