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Casting Technology and E-Mobility - 3rd VDI Conference at Fraunhofer IFAM in Bremen

Components in the electric powertrain, giga casting, transformation, circular economy, energy prices in discourse

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Thomas Fritsch, Chief Editor

Under the impression of massive economic decline, inflation and pronounced energy uncertainty, the 3rd VDI Conference on Casting Technology and E-Mobility was held in October 2022 in Bremen at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Applied Materials Research IFAM.

In his opening statement, conference chair Dipl.-Ing. Franz-Josef Wöstmann already stated in principle that e-mobility is still a question of acceptance in society, even in Germany, and essentially depends on whether one is based in an urban or rural environment.

The current economic situation and the European environment also give cause for concern and it can undoubtedly be said that Europe is currently no longer a growth market. Therefore, right at the beginning of the well-attended event, the appeal was appropriate that there is currently no alternative to cooperative dealings between OEMs and suppliers and Wöstmann cited Japanese companies as a target-oriented example of good dealings and in the interest of all.

This laid the foundation for an exciting conference where participants from OEMs as well as suppliers, Tier1 and cross-industry experts had their say.

Giga or mega-casting giant die-casting cells on the advance?

One topic that ran through many of the contributions dealt with the future of giant die-casting machines with a clamping force of 8,000 tons and more. Recent reports speak of a 12000t machine ordered in China and considerations are also preparing 15000t machines.

In their opening address Klaus Sammer and Dr.-Ing. Thomas Kopp (both BME Group Landshut plant) made it very clear that in die casting it is not necessarily the size of the machines that counts. Rather, process reliability, casting know-how and stability are decisive. BMW casts about 3 million components with about 58,000t of die castings per year at the site and manages with machine sizes of up to 4,400t.

When used correctly, these machines can also meet the requirements of the most modern battery housings or large structural parts - neither mega nor giga machines are needed, the representatives of the Bavarian OEM clearly stated.

VOLVO has taken a different stance on this topic and will also produce with mega presses in the future, and Handtmann, the renowned die caster, wants to join the circle of mega-casters as Tier 1. Just in time for the company's 150th anniversary, a mega press from Bühler is to be installed in 2023 that will be able to produce a complete rear end car using die casting, as Dipl.-Ing. Stefan Kneer explains.

Christoph Pille and his colleague Dr Dirk Lehmhus from Fraunhofer IFAM have been working on the evaluation and alternatives to giga-casting.

In addition to all the advantages of reducing the number of process steps and individual parts, the experts also see conflicting goals with regard to the recyclability and reparability of the components. Many questions are still open here and controversial views are circulating. Like BMW, GF Casting Solutions also sees the demands on foundrymen as being more sustainability-oriented, and this has more to do with casting technology and metallurgy than with machine size, even if TESLA's Elon Musk sees it differently.

Nevertheless, the trend worldwide towards large machines is in full swing, as Jost Gaertner from ALUMAG notes. In his presentation he provided, among other things, a list of the 44 largest giant machines sold/installed worldwide (see white paper). This clearly shows that the large structural parts are in demand especially at TESLA in the USA, China and Germany, but also at large Chinese companies. From this development one could now critically deduce that EUROPA is developing from a front runner to a follower, but as described this is quite controversial.

In Gaertner's view, the shift in drive systems towards more e-mobility not only has far-reaching effects on die casting, but there are also excellent development opportunities for the areas of steel for BEV platforms and continuous casting.

Circular economy in the electric powertrain

Dr. rer.nat Marion Früchtl (Head of Central Unit of Biological Transformation Fraunhofer Institute for Casting, Composite and Processing Technology IGCV, Augsburg) was right on target for this topic. In her presentation, the expert for the circular economy explained that the climate targets for 2050 are primarily about avoiding waste in general.

Today, she said, there are mainly problems with dismantling when dealing with composite materials and various alloys. There are still many unanswered questions, especially with regard to storage and responsibility, and there is a lack of usable data.

The approach of a Circonomy Hub in a cross-sectoral open platform for networking could help here. To this end, it is planned to initiate a project that as many international interested parties as possible can join and network. (We will report on the progress of this project).

Current situation - energy price pressure

In this thematic section the event dealt with the current challenges and the best way to deal with them with pragmatic solutions for the companies.

Energy expert Markus Barella (energy-first) showed the participants the correlations and the development of energy prices and how they are influenced.

All in all, it is now a matter of saving as much energy as possible where this is possible; cutting back production is expressly NOT a solution, because there is still a wide range of energy-saving potential for every company, especially as far as renewable energy is concerned, but politicians are also called upon to act more quickly and clearly, because uncertainty and hesitant politics fuel inflation. In addition, the merit order system could be questioned, at least temporarily, in order to give the market a chance to disentangle itself.

Entrepreneur, die caster and positive thinker Gerd A. Röders from Soltau impressively confirms that many companies are currently struggling to survive, but that this phase, too, will pass. Röders has not relied on state support in his company so far but has pragmatically put all energy-relevant criteria to the test. Together with his people, a consumption methodology was introduced for each individual machine, a changeover to 3-shift operation was made with changes in feeding and a simultaneous extension of weekends.

In the quality area, an optimization of rejects was set up, so that the entrepreneur Röders and his staff can remain positive in spite of everything.

The assessment of the renowned management consultant Johannes Messer and the resulting instructions for action are very similar.

Messer explains that we are currently facing more challenges at the same time than ever before, but that the art now is to turn these challenges into success. E-mobility can also be an accelerator, on the one hand because new competitors are on the market and the struggle for the best production is just beginning. For Europe in general, the die-casting and lightweight construction expert does not see the black.

Europe's advantage, he says, is the best network that has grown up around the world: the best suppliers, the best raw materials, the leading product developers, the best mould making and optimal mechanical engineering.

This constellation contains a preferential quality per se, which must be used consistently, especially now. However, Messer sees a joint approach by OEMs and suppliers as a prerequisite for success, in order to utilize the foundations of the network. He therefore calls for cooperation between OEMs and foundries at the earliest possible stage of the design phase and high speed in implementation.

In the panel discussion with Dr.Thomas Knopp, G.A. Röders, Peter Lutze (ae Group) and Johannes Messer, the participants agreed in principle that this is precisely where things must start.

The criteria for success are quite simple in a nutshell:

Fair customer/supplier relations, cost reduction and scrap optimization, these are the points that the companies themselves must achieve. The panelists also agreed that it is not worth following every short-term trend, but rather to use the right material in the right place with the right process. Peter Lutze was able to give an example of this for his company, the ae Group, which already produces CO² neutrally today. Despite all the optimism and progressive production, there are also challenges that cannot be solved technically, such as the latent lack of personnel.

All the more reason for the foundries of the future to actively present attractive jobs.

All in all, the event organized by Fraunhofer IFAM and VDI offered interesting presentations and an excellent networking platform and impressively showed how important events of this kind are in terms of presence.

The technical contributions were rounded off with an interesting approach by the HA Group on the use of lost cores in HPDC, casting simulation of semi-solid casting (Project Engineering GmbH), coils for electric motors produced in aluminium die casting (Heinzmann GmbH), also with a view to independence from copper as a raw material, and highly efficient wheel hub drives presented by Deep Drive.

Company Info

Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials - IFAM

Wiener Straße 12
28359 Bremen

Telephone: +49 421 2246-0