The BMW Group has launched a new Engel production unit at its Landshut production plant, where the kidney-shaped badge for the electric BMW iX is produced in a cleanroom atmosphere. Both the BMW Group and Engel are breaking new ground here, prompting the International Society for Plastics Technology (SPE Central Europe) to honor the application with the SPE Grand Award 2021.
Once the radiator grille on BMW internal combustion engine vehicles, this characteristic design feature of all BMW models has taken on a new role following electrification of the drivetrains. The kidney-shaped badge protects the camera as well as several sensors for assisted and, in the future, autonomous driving. The new function means that both the design and manufacturing process for the kidney-shaped badge has changed fundamentally.
In an integrated process, a heatable functional film is back-molded with polycarbonate (PC) and flood-coated with polyurethane (PU). This combination of processes is also offered by Engel under the name clearmelt. "We knew from the start that this process combination would enable automotive designers to think in a completely new way," said Michael Fischer, Head of Business Development Technologies at Engel. "With the technology already having been used for vehicle interiors, the kidney-shaped badges for BMW's new electric models represent the next step. This is the first time that combined film back injection molding and polyurethane flooding is being used in the series production of functional components on the exterior, where they are exposed to particularly high stress.”
The sensitive electronics are protected under the scratch-resistant PU surface. The high gloss level and depth effect, which even a thin coating of PU achieves, convey a very elegant impression.
Processing three materials in a single step
The production cell integrates an Engel duo combi M injection molding machine with a horizontal rotary table, two large articulated robots for handling the films and molded parts, a film cleaning system, an inline quality-control station, and peripheral units including polyurethane technology. The injection molding machine's clamping unit and the robot work areas are encapsulated over a length of six meters and a height of more than four meters to achieve an ISO Class 7 cleanroom. A special feature is a sliding ceiling in the cleanroom above the injection molding machine, which can be opened for mold changes and other work in the mold area. All work steps in the cleanroom are automated. The robots also unpack the function films and pack the parts.
An ISO Class 8 greyroom adjoins the cleanroom with the production cell. This is the work area for production employees who transfer the airtight boxes with the function films to the cleanroom production system and the packed molded parts to intralogistics for downstream processing.
Virtual reality ensures future-proof investment
In another first, Engel virtually visualized the entire production unit as early as the RFQ phase. "In the 3D simulation, we were able to guide our customer through all the production cell areas, see how the robots interact, and assess the ergonomic aspects before construction of the cell had even begun," said Walter Aumayr, Vice President, Automation and Peripheral Units, at Engel Austria. "This is the future. Virtual reality means that we can give our customers even better investment security."
As the system solution provider, Engel is the central contact for customers, including for system components developed in conjunction with third parties. Partner companies for the production cell include Hennecke for PU processing and Petek Reinraumtechnik for cleanroom technology.