An outstanding success for Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) - the German Research Foundation (DFG) has extended the Collaborative Research Centre SFB/TRR 73 which will be funded with approximately EUR 4.7 million over the next four years. The objective of the upcoming project phase is to develop manufacturing processes for sheet bulk metal forming in industry.
In SFB / TRR 73 "Manufacturing of complex functional components with variants by using a new sheet metal forming process", the researchers have merged the processes of sheet and bulk forming to create a new effective method of production. In the sheet forming process, components are produced from a pre-fabricated flat metal sheet while the raw material for bulk forming is three-dimensional. These processes are used in almost all manufacturing industries, for example to make car doors or aeroplane wings.
Combining two manufacturing processes successfully
Researchers from different engineering disciplines have brought innovative ideas to the new combined process. Their solutions include perspectives from manufacturing, metrology, mechanics, mechanical engineering and materials science. An interdisciplinary approach is needed as the engineers have to master several processes, for example, when a component is manufactured from a thin sheet measuring just a few millimetres, different thicknesses occur. During this process, it is imperative that no cracks or holes form. A new innovation in sheet forming is manufacturing components from semi-finished products where the engineers have already adjusted the sheet thickness.
Under laboratory conditions the new method works well, but the researchers still have some problems to solve before it is ready for industry. They are still investigating fluctuations in the process which occurred in the laboratory. For example, temperature changes, wear or the type of lubricant can effect production. If the sheet is pressed against a tool it only has contact at certain points which also depends on pressure and dimensions. The researchers are now investigating how to improve the surface contact with a lubricant or coating between the sheet and tool or a combination of both. They are also looking at ways to reduce tool wear.
A further challenge is batch production, which is not possible in basic research but can be achieved through suitable partnerships with industry. Engineers from academia and industry will collaborate on this in the new project phase. This means that they will be able to gain insights into developments in sheet forming under industrial conditions.
Keen interest from industry
The project's objective is manufacturing components which can be used for even more diverse purposes and complex applications. In the first phase, the researchers were able to demonstrate that the new method is feasible in principle. In the second phase, the researchers applied their method to semi-finished products and demonstrated that it works in practice. In the third phase, the researchers want to make sheet bulk metal forming fit for industrial manufacturing. Sheet bulk metal forming is especially suitable for producing gear parts, seat adjusters or closing elements for vehicles. Several companies have expressed a keen interest in the research.
Another priority for the researchers is to develop new flexible manufacturing processes which enable companies to manufacture more economically. "We have managed to bring together sheet forming and bulk forming and develop a manufacturing process which has wider range of applications," explains Professor Marion Merklein, Chair of Manufacturing Technology and the speaker of the SFB. Manufacturing technology, Applied Mechanics, Engineering Design and Production Measurement Technology at FAU are also involved in the project. Approximately half of the researchers involved in the collaborative research centre work at FAU.
FAU's co-operation partners include the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz University of Hanover and the Technical University of Dortmund. In total, the three institutions will receive EUR 10.5 million by 2021 of which the FAU will receive around EUR 4.7 million. SFB/Transregio 73 was founded in 2009.