Germany’s only federal cluster of excellence in the field of lightweight construction research - "MERGE" Chemnitz
A component lies on the table which has quite a complex geometric shape. What makes it so special is that fact that it is made in one step. A textile with embroidered sensors got its plastic shell in an injection mold and can immediately be built as a component into a vehicle or a machine without any additional elaborate production steps. If the part were manufactured with conventional methods and made from metal, then this would first require the production and joining of several metal sheets. The part would, thus, be much heavier, and the integration of functions via sensor technology would entail additional steps.
Shortening such processes significantly is the objective of the Federal Cluster of Excellence “Merge Technologies for Multifunctional Lightweight Structures (MERGE)” which is headquartered at Chemnitz University of Technology (TU Chemnitz). More than 100 researchers and technicians from the sectors mechanical engineering, mathematics, electrical engineering, physics, chemistry, and computer science all pool their knowledge and expertise here. They seek to unite the separate production steps for processing such different material groups as metals, plastics, and textiles into one mass producible and resource efficient technology while also adding integrated smart systems in the same production steps.
By 2017, the scientists will demonstrate the results of their research, for example, in the “Chemnitz Car Concept.” A subcompact car “up!” provided by the Volkswagen Group will get a car body and interior made of mass producible MERGE lightweight construction components, and it will be powered by fuel cells which are also being developed at Chemnitz University of Technology. A second up! made by VW will showcase the before-and-after scenario – on the one side, the vehicle with its current construction and, on the other side, with the new product developments.
- Prof. Dr. Lothar Kroll, the Director of TU Chemnitz’ Institute of Lightweight Structures (IST) as well as the Coordinator of the Federal Cluster of Excellence MERGE, provides information about the motivation and the current status of the implementations.
Professor Kroll, what was the reason why MERGE was launched?
The idea for this research cluster comes from industry. Industrial enterprises need applications which permit them to manufacture lighter products as well as products with lower emissions and fewer costs. It is not unusual that only the one or the other thing works. Parts made of extremely lightweight materials are built into premium vehicles already today. However, these parts are very cost intensive and their production requires a lot of time. In order to ensure the efficient mass production with these parts, we need other technologies. That’s where MERGE applies the BRE strategy.
What does this mean?
BRE stands for bivalent resource efficiency. This means the development of structural components which save resources both during their utilization and production. With this sole focus on suitability for mass production, we clearly distinguish ourselves from other clusters and, thus, assume a unique position.
What new technologies do you focus on?
We’re working on mass producible hybrid procedures with the help of in-line and in-situ processes. In-situ means, for example, that we combine all production steps ‘in one heat,’ for example, in one injection mold which saves energy during this process and weight within the component. We combine, for example, plastic injection molding with internal high pressure forming. So far, these have been two separate realms. As far as in-line processes are concerned, we use continuously working roll-to-roll procedures which have their origin in the textile industry. We in the Chemnitz region possess extensive expertise which is in great demand particularly when it comes to new textile technologies for material-optimized lightweight structures. This knowledge is used, for example, by the Open Hybrid LabFactory in Wolfsburg which covers the entire value creation chain from the carbon fiber to the hybrid production process all the way to the production of functional lightweight components for passenger cars. Here, the stakeholders of the MERGE cluster are involved in the development of all new textile machines and textile processes.
How does industry participate in the research conducted by MERGE?
Our cluster integrates both large companies from the vehicle, machine, and aircraft construction sectors and numerous small and medium sized enterprises which cover the value creation chain ‘from the material to the lightweight structure.’ We’re, thus, very close to the requirements of the real world, on the one hand; and we’re able to give important impulses for the future business development, on the other hand. And in our new transparent lightweight construction center with demonstration plants and pilot lines for pioneering lightweight construction technologies, which started its operations in the fall of 2015, we also work on innovative solutions for practical applications together with our partners from industry.Additional Links