Lightweight construction is marked by the intelligent combination of materials. Both composites and metals benefit from this.
The market for carbon fiber reinforced plastics is divided. According to information from the industry associations Carbon Composites and AVK, although the volume of glass-fiber reinforced plastic (GFK) manufactured in Europe grew around two percent in 2014 it has been stagnating for a longer period. In contrast, the smaller market for carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CRP) is experiencing annual growth rates of ten percent.
This development is fueled by the boom in lightweight construction: Engineers are not only utilizing composites to reduce weight in aircraft, automotive and wind power plant construction, its advantages are increasingly being discovered and applied in mechanical engineering. According to Dr. Elmar Witten, Managing Director of AVK (Federation of Reinforced Plastics) the trend towards ever greater energy efficiency is encouraging lightweight construction. Over 50 percent of the Airbus A350, for instance, consists of reinforced plastics, especially CFCs. "Over the life of the aircraft, every kilogram of weight savings cuts fuel consumption by three tons," explains Witten.
At the 2nd lightweight SOLUTIONS Symposium in Hannover, Witten described the trends that are giving a boost to the composites industry. However, a "comeback for metal" was emphasized at the event: "New materials such as composites open up great opportunities in construction and entirely new design possibilities," according to Marc Siemering, Senior Vice-President of HANNOVER MESSE and co-organizer of the symposium. Nevertheless, lightweight construction still likes to fall back on "tried-and-true metals" as the basis for its multi-material mix.
Arguments for steel, magnesium and aluminum include decades-long experience and familiarity with its optimized manufacturing and processing technologies. "It's more difficult for composites," explains Marc Bicker of Leichtbau Cluster, a symposium partner. CRPs, for instance, are not uniform – they consist of carbon fibers surrounded by a plastic matrix. "Both exhibit considerable differences in terms of their characteristics and properties – and this is the real challenge when producing CRP components," adds Bicker. Lightweight construction systems are an "optimized, intelligent solution" which combines materials based on their individual characteristics and economic factors.
Lightweight construction systems are one of the most important trends at Industrial Supply 2015 , the leading trade fair for industrial subcontracting and lightweight construction at HANNOVER MESSE. Another trend highlighted by the show is multi-functionality: Components acquire added value if they can perform more than one function, saving material and reducing size. One example is aluminum sandwich panels such as Metawell manufactures for transportation and mechanical engineering. These light panels which are resistant to flexing are used for construction and transport purposes as well as mechanical engineering. They consist of two aluminum facings with a corrugated core, in which heating cables can be embedded. "This type of panel is ideal for underfloor heating. But we can also produce panels with other types of core material that will absorb sound or store heat," explains Herbert Fährrolfes from Metawell.