Automotive industry in Asia increasingly relying on new technologies

Austrian injection machine builder Engel’s trend.scaut automotive forum took place parallel to FUMOTec, the international trade fair for automotive engineering and future mobility, at the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition & Convention Centre, thus attracting a particularly high level of attention to the conference. The participants were mainly development and production managers as well as managing directors of both Chinese and international companies, and this also contributed to the huge success of the event. "We discussed new technologies and opportunities for the future on the basis of the specific requirements of local producers and were also able to reflect the topics in an international context," reported Gero Willmeroth, President East Asia and Oceania of Engel based in Shanghai. The key-note program included representatives of Volvo and Nobo (a member of the Great Wall Motor Company), Continental and Ecorea, as well as JSC Automotive, ExxonMobil Chemical, Sabic and Engel.

With more than 300 participants, ENGEL trend.scaut 2018 in Shanghai was a great success. Current and future challenges, new opportunities and innovative technologies were discussed in the key-notes. [Photo: Engel]
With four live exhibits on the second day of the event, Engel built the bridge to operational practice at its large-scale machine plant in Shanghai. Among other things, thick-walled headlamp lenses and geometrically sophisticated interior parts with a very high-quality surface were produced. [Photo: Engel]

As the first presentations made clear, the automotive market in Asia is continuing to develop at a particularly dynamic pace. "Over 100 vehicle brands are now competing in China," says Dr Norbert Müller, head of the Engel Center for Lightweight Composite Technologies, explaining the situation. The focus is on electric vehicles.

Another development is that renowned Chinese suppliers are also placing their products in the premium segment. "This results in important opportunities for the market entry of new technologies," says Müller, summarising both trends and using the example of innovative composite technologies in his presentation.

Together with his team, Müller develops new, particularly cost-effective processes for large-scale composite lightweight construction, covering a broad range of technologies: from HP-RTM and SMC to the processing of thermoplastic semi-finished products such as organic sheets and tapes, through to innovative reactive technologies such as in-situ polymerisation (T-RTM). "What is new is that composite manufacturers in Asia are also increasingly focusing on thermoplastic-based solutions," says Müller. "The possibility of functionalising thermoplastic composite materials immediately after moulding in the same mould using injection moulding can secure decisive time advantages."

The fact that high productivity and efficiency in the automotive industry are more decisive for competitiveness and success than in other sectors is not a new insight. In Asia in particular, however, the situation could be further aggravated, at the latest by 2020, when subsidies for electric vehicles are discontinued. In the key-notes and in the panel discussion, but also in smaller meetings on the sidelines, this topic came up time and time again. Various future scenarios were developed, but there is no general agreement among the experts.

According to Jochen Siebert, the managing director of JSC Automotive, a management consultancy specialising in the Chinese automotive market, the industry is already undergoing a transformation process that could slow down the dynamic market development and lead to consolidation. Another scenario is that hybrid vehicles are growing faster than electric vehicles.

Process integration and automation are becoming even more important as efficiency pressure increases. "We are increasingly supplying multi-component machines to Asia," confirms Michael Fischer, Head of Business Development Technologies at Engel's headquarters in Austria. Engel is increasingly developing integrated system solutions including process technology, automation and other peripherals for the automotive lighting and interior sectors. "If we precisely coordinate all process stages and match system components right from the start, we can exploit both the efficiency and quality potential to the full," says Fischer.

One feature of the Engel trend.scaut is that it does not stop at theoretical considerations. On the second day of the event, Engel invited participants to its large-scale machine plant in Shanghai Xinzhuang Industrial Park. Based on four challenging applications, the Engel automotive experts demonstrated how new technologies can be efficiently implemented in practice.

Thick-walled headlamp lenses were produced in a fully automated production cell with two interlinked duo injection molding machines. Engel solves the challenge of combining high optical quality with short cycle times with its patented multi-layer technology, optimised by external cooling. Although the pre-molded parts cool for 30 minutes, the cycle time is significantly less than 3 minutes. "More and more frequently, high-quality optical components are being made of plastics," Fischer reports. "The polymer materials are lighter than glass and offer product designers more freedom. Engel has already equipped renowned lens manufacturers worldwide with multilayer systems."

The task of the second application was to combine efficiency with high surface quality. A further duo injection molding machine was used to produce sophisticated trim parts for the vehicle interior using the Engel foammelt process. Structural foam molding makes it possible to reliably fill even very thin component areas while at the same time reducing the component weight. The special feature of the innovative process presented in Shanghai, which is based on a chemical blowing agent, is that high-quality visible surfaces are created directly from polypropylene in injection molding.

The production process for the transparent technical parts was all-electric. Here, an e-mac injection molding machine impressed with its high precision, process stability and efficiency. The e-mac series machines are exclusively equipped with particularly powerful servo-motors, including the ejection and pressing functions, thus ensuring optimum efficiency. Added to this there is the compact design. Saving space is also an important efficiency factor.





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