Public-Private Partnerships Put Form to Big Ideas

Lightweight materials, powder forging, and robotics get a boost from manufacturers pooling their ideas and resources

Research is a demanding process for industrial organizations, more demanding because of the scarcity of capital, the pressure of competition, and the necessity of developing new products and manufacturing processes to meet tightening regulatory standards with lightweight and environmentally compliant products. All these factors help to clarify the increasing importance of public-private partnerships in product and process research.

Press-builder Siempelkamp is a member of public-private research institute called Open Hybrid LabFactory (OHLF), which opened in September at Wolfsburg, Germany. OHLF researches methods for more efficient high-volume production of especially lightweight, and resource-efficient, vehicle bodies and drive systems. For its part, Siempelkamp developed and supplied a 2,500-metric tons hybrid press that is described as “the heart of the entire research project.”

Each of its four cylinders has a pressing capacity of 625 mt, which means press is capable of speeds up to 800 mm/second. The closing process achieves accuracies of +/- 0.05 mm range. The die cushion applies a maximum drawing force of 1,000 mt. The 2,000x2,500 mm2 moving beam can be tilted by 5°, so  material can be distributed optimally. “This press is unique regarding its function and technology,” according to Dr. Michael Schöler, head of research for Siempelkamp.

It is designed to manufacture fiber-reinforced composites, but it’s also suitable for deep-drawing and hot forming of various materials. Another technical highlight involves an extruder that allows hybrid components to be “back-molded,” for production of large, high-strength parts.

A public-private partnership in the U.K. is developing a faster, more inexpensive process for forming titanium parts like fasteners and similarly critical aerospace components.  The FAST-forge project, developed by engineers at the University of Sheffield and funded by Innovate UK, is concentrating on aerospace-grade titanium alloys. The goal is to achieve more design flexibility for parts produced by powder forging, and in that way to economize (and even accelerate) the production.

Titanium parts are in great demand as aerospace components, and rising production rates for commercial aircraft programs are likely to underscore the need for more competitive design and manufacturing. Also, titanium alloys are expensive, especially considering that forging plus machining of parts like fasteners can mean a high volume of the material is lost in production.

Dr. Martin Jackson, director of aerospace engineering and co-director of the Sheffield Titanium Alloy Research group (STAR) said: "Titanium is a light-weight and inherently corrosion-resistant material, giving it performance, environmental, and cost-of-ownership advantages over high-grade steels. But it is three times the cost of steel, with limited supply. The FAST-forge process shows how the benefits of titanium over steel can be achieved more efficiently and at lower cost."

Metalysis, which has developed a low-lost method for producing titanium powder for 3D printing and sinter forging, is part of the research, along with the U.K.'s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC), and Safran Landing Systems: they intend to develop a three-step method for converting rutile sand into titanium powder, and the powder into sinter-forged parts.

Jean-Philippe Villain-Chastre of Safran Landing Systems, noted his group is offering expertise in machining, testing, and expertise in qualifying aerospace-grade materials, “to ensure that the titanium components which will be manufactured under this new process become a benchmark for the industry."

LIFT, the Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow public-private partnership, and the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence at The Ohio State University, are staging competition for students to combine the skills of blacksmithing and robotics programming.

The LIFT Prize in Robotic Blacksmithing introduces digital, or robotic, blacksmithing technology to students and challenges them to make arbitrary, numerically described objects by re-shaping materials through plastic deformation and incremental forming processes.

Using robotics, students will be asked to form three useful items (e.g., horseshoe, goblet, and an ultralight truss out of materials of increasing difficulty and importance..

Through the competition, LIFT is working to usher in robotic blacksmithing as the next wave of manufacturing technology, following CNC programming and 3D printing.

“This competition will bring these students to the cutting edge of manufacturing technology and prepare the industry for the next big change in technology,” said Glenn Daehn, the competition’s technical director. “By engaging students through competition, we are encouraging them to develop the skills they need to become the innovators and leaders the manufacturing industry needs to thrive in the future.”

“The manufacturing industry is changing rapidly, and we need to ensure the workforce of the future has the skills and is confident in using new lightweighting technologies and processes,” said Emily Stover DeRocco, director of education and workforce development at LIFT. “This competition will put the latest technology in the hands of students to both provide them the skills they need and encourage them to consider manufacturing as a career in the future.”

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