Infrared joins - 2nd INFRARED Conference 2012 in Hamburg

LOTTE / HAMBURG Under the slogan “Infrared joins”, the FRIMO Group GmbH organised 2nd INFRARED Conference in Hamburg on 21 and 22 June 2012. More than 80 participants visited the event, taking the opportunity to learn about the latest innovations in the infrared welding of plastics and to exchange information concerning the development and application possibilities of this technology in roundtable discussions with high-calibre experts.
The group of participants included specialists and decision-makers from an extremely broad range of companies and industries. The automotive industry was well-represented by OEMs such as BMW, Porsche and VW along with Tier 1 suppliers such as ContiTech, Dräxlmaier, Faurecia, Hella, IAC, Johnson Controls, Magna, Mahle, SMP and Visteon. With companies such as Aluplast, Dräger Safety, Gefran, GMB Kunststoffteile, Hürner Funken, Hutchinson, Ninkaplast, Premium Aerotec, Senoplast, Trexel and Truck-Lite, the list of participants also included specialists for a broad spectrum of technical plastics applications which use joining processes. With 15 presentations by users such as Aluplast and Dräxlmaier, material producers such as BASF and Borealis, and the latest results from research and development by Chemnitz University of Technology, the presentation programme offered an interesting mix. Other technology and solution providers such as AT Automation Technology, Heraeus, Trexel, Budenheim and, last but not least, FRIMO, shed light on the topic from various perspectives, reporting about experience and future prospects.
  
The state of the technology, updates on the latest scientific findings, and an examination of the entire value creation chain, along with the exchange of information on best practices, formed the core of the event. Other objectives of the conference, according to Detlev Böl, Head of Plastics Joining at FRIMO Group GmbH, included the development of future prospects and the initiation of common projects. The two-day infrared conference thereby offered a broad spectrum of information on the possibilities and challenges of this pioneering technology. Live demonstrations at the FRIMO site in Hamburg rounded out the programme.

FRIMO has added to the range of the JoinLine series production and laboratory units since the first infrared conference in 2010, for example, and “has meanwhile doubled its offering to six series production machines today,” said Detlev Böl. The FRIMO infrared product portfolio starts with small standard machines for joining applications, e.g. for filters, pipes and special components. The medium-range machine segment offers welding units for door trim, while the high-end machine segment provides systems for processing instrument panels and other large components. FRIMO now also offers a large number of automated solutions. The live demonstration of robot-assisted infrared welding was one of the highlights of the technology show at the FRIMO site. This development gives the processor more flexibility. Different welding consoles and assembly grippers can be combined with one another, for example, and many existing functions can be taken over. The use of the robots provides high availability and simplifies the handling of components between the machines. Depending on project and customer requirements, entirely different production layouts can be arranged, along with combination and customised solutions.

Further tests of materials and welding techniques, together with other joining methods, were also demonstrated live in the Hamburg plant.

Fundamentals and basic findings

Some participants were neither experts with many years of experience nor active users of plastic joining methods. So the presentations by a few speakers comparing the different joining methods and on the basics of infrared technology served as an excellent overture to the event.

It is important in this regard to bear in mind that the determination of the optimal machine technology and the welding parameters during infrared welding demand a high degree of empirical judgment and experience. “That means that close collaboration between processors and a machine supplier who has the relevant experience and know-how is necessary right from the development phase,” explained Detlev Böl. “It only works when you work together.”

This was a particularly important finding, especially with regard to the many automotive applications, which ran through a number of different presentations almost like a common thread. Black components, usually containing carbon black as colouring filler, present a special challenge for IR welding. Short wavelength infrared radiation ensures good heat penetration depth in the joining zone of the components, but the surface of black components is highly sensitive to thermal stress.

The adapted emitter output technology discussed by several speakers is useful in such cases (R. Fuhrich, Chemnitz University of Technology; S. Motshev, BASF; S. Hartl, Dräxlmaier). As Detlev Böl noted, for example, there are now more than 3000 different PP grades and, not least as a result of innovative, high-performance PP materials (M. Kralicek, Borealis), PP is increasingly emerging from the commodities segment and entering the domain of engineering plastics. Special additives – IR absorbers and heating accelerators – are also helping to improve infrared welding performance (R. Wissemborski, Chemische Fabrik Budenheim).

Particularly in view of the polyamides which are also coming into frequent use, BASF has conducted extensive studies on infrared welding. Those studies showed that infrared welding enables significantly greater strength as compared with vibration welding, for example, as Stefan Motshev reported. With such large bandwidth grades, which are available in non-reinforced form or with short and long glass fibre reinforcement, there are also no standard solutions for welding. These cases require a significant amount of development work. The FRIMO team has gained considerable experience through extensive testing. “Meanwhile, that experience has been successfully applied in a whole range of series production operations in ongoing reference projects,” said Detlev Böl.

And the welding experts from FRIMO will continue to drive the development of infrared welding with regard to the weldability of further innovative materials in the future. This is particularly true in connection with lightweight construction – in the joining processes used to process modern fibre-reinforced plastic sheets with a thermoplastic matrix, for example.

IR welding in practice

A series of very practically oriented presentations provided impressive arguments in favour of infrared welding technology.

The MuCell® process for producing lightweight components made of microcellular thermoplastic foam is already beginning to find applications in many branches of industry. Because this integral foam should be welded in the relatively thin compact edge zone, it is absolutely essential here to use only emitter systems which are optimally designed for these conditions. Very good welding results can be achieved in this way (M. Jacobi, Trexel).

One completely new application area for this technology in the future could be in the window industry. For more than 40 years now, PVC window profiles have been welded by means of heating element processes. For this reason, the medium-sized, craftsmanship-intensive companies of the window industry are not easily persuaded by the benefits of IR welding technology (A. Klotz, Aluplast). But recent developments – especially the rising cost of energy – necessitate taking a fresh look at new, more energy-efficient solutions. IR emitters, which are switched on only while the joining zone is being heated up, can save a considerable amount of energy versus continuously operated heating elements. Moreover, the regular replacement procedures for PTFE films and welding mirrors can be eliminated.

A modern instrument panel was used to present a challenging application for IR welding (S. Hartl, Dräxlmaier). In the example presented, both an air duct and an airbag firing channel are welded to a PP-GF carrier in a single operation. Here it is especially important to use infrared to join the airbag firing channel to the instrument panel with the greatest possible weld strength and to enable the formation of air duct welds which are completely free of lint and particles. In addition to the high design latitude, with the ability to weld three-dimensional contours, the speaker also praised infrared welding’s gentle processing characteristics with low compression forces. Particularly in view of the trend toward thinner and thinner component wall thicknesses, the low penetration depth of IR technology offers advantages over other processes such as vibration welding, for example.

Thanks to their close cooperation with FRIMO, Dräxlmaier has already successfully implemented a large number of instrument panel projects using infrared welding technology in series production recently.

The last presentation of the event rounded out this topic with “IR in practice”. Martin Buthmann reported on FRIMO’s experience in the use of baffle plates, for example, and in the selection of optimal emitter types. Along with short wave quartz glass tube emitters, FRIMO also offers medium wave film emitters. Film emitters of this type, which FRIMO manufactures in both vertical and horizontal configurations, can be arranged in relatively small radiuses, for example. In each case, FRIMO determines the technically and economically optimal solution for the intended application.

Innovative peripherals

The constant flow of innovations also continues in the area of peripherals related to infrared welding. As a rule, the classic straight, round or three-dimensional glass tube emitters which are adapted to the contour of the component are reflectively dampened with gold and “erased” clean in the required zones. A new development in the area of glass tube emitters is the contour-adapted QRC® emitter. The white reflector made of synthetic quartz (Quartz Reflective Coating) is extremely resistant to heat, acids, alkali solutions and other aggressive substances, and reflects about 75% of the radiation (R. Lembke, Heraeus Noblelight).

One important aspect, among others, for quality assurance – and not only in safety-related components – is the monitoring and regulation of the actual temperatures at the surface of the partner elements being joined. Infrared imaging can help here (M. Wandelt, AT Automation Technology). Very small, lightweight cameras can be integrated into the machines.

JoinLine infrared technology from FRIMO
Presentations from FRIMO rounded out the conference programme. Along with presentations on general comparisons between basic joining methods and on experience with infrared systems in everyday practice, the different JoinLine products ranging from Eco and Highspeed to Maxi were also presented. Robot-controlled IR welding for maximum flexibility was also demonstrated live at the FRIMO site.

Summary

The 2nd INFRARED Conference in Hamburg on 21 and 22 June created yet another outstanding forum giving manufacturers and users the opportunity to exchange copious information, and to discuss challenges and solution approaches, for the benefit of their own projects. “The practical focus, the hands-on access to the machine technology, and the presentations from the OEMs, raw material suppliers and other experts,” – that’s how one of the participants at the conference summarised his personal highlights. For another, “the balanced mix of basic information on the different factors and very application-specific details” were especially valuable.

And the conference participants were not the only ones who very satisfied with the two days of the conference: Detlev Böl and the FRIMO team were, too.


About FRIMO (www.frimo.com)

The FRIMO Group includes global production and sales locations with more than 1,100 employees in Europe, Asia and America, and numerous representatives around the world.
Companies of the FRIMO Group have been repeatedly awarded for outstanding achievements. FRIMO already received 18 times the SPE awards, also known as the "Plastic-Oscars". Three of these were awarded in 2012, both for achievements as tool manufacturers and as equipment manufacturers in the category of "body interior".

FRIMO is one of the worldwide leading developers and providers of system solutions for the manufacture of high quality  fiber-reinforced plastics (composite technologies) and supplies tooling and machinery as well as the respective automation and finishing, e.g. with flexible trimming, joining and assembling. FRIMO’s portfolio for the plastics processing industries also covers an extremely wide range of technologies PU processing along with flexible trimming, punching, pressing and forming, as well as thermoforming, laminating, edgefolding, joining and gluing. FRIMO offers its customers tailor-made tools, machinery and systems as separate or turnkey solutions from a single source.

 

Contact for further information and documentation

FRIMO Group GmbH
Martina Schierholt
Hansaring 6
D-49504 Lotte

Phone.: +49 (0) 54 04 / 8 86 - 1 57
Fax: +49 (0) 54 04 / 8 86 - 51 57
E-Mail: schierholt.m[at]frimo.com

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