Taming 500 bar
When young graduates start their first job, it won't be long before they face their first complex interdisciplinary challenges. Professor Michael Koch has initiated a series of student projects aimed at honing precisely the skills they need to master these challenges. Among the most recently completed projects was the development and construction of a miniature blown film extruder featuring automation technology from B&R.
It's 8:00 AM on a Wednesday. In the Staudinger Technical Center, run by the Department of Plastics Technologies at the Technical University of Ilmenau, Germany, Martin Zschoche flips the main switch on the miniature extrusion line. After days of commissioning its drive axes and the heating and control circuits, today is the day he and his classmates will finally get to see their extruder turn plastic into film. Zschoche presses the softkeys on the B&R Power Panel 500, which serves double duty as both controller and operator interface. All five graduate students and their advisor Matthias Düngen have their eyes fixed on the display in anticipation. Have they thought of everything? Will it hold up under 500 bar of pressure?
After what seems like ages, the temperature reaches its setpoint and the extruder starts. Drives, heater, compressor – everything is running perfectly. Christian Simon fills the hopper with plastic pellets, which echo as they make their way down into the screw. All eyes are now on the die head; the melt should appear at any moment. And appear it does: oozing from the side of the tool mounting flange like hot lava. Disappointment fills the room. An insufficient seal on the flange is quickly identified as the root of the problem, and by lunchtime everything is reassembled and ready for another try. Once again, however, the seal doesn't hold up. At the next of the seminars held regularly throughout the project, the students focus intently on finding a solution.
Professor Koch loves opportunities like this. "Working together to solve problems is something they'll have to do every day in their jobs. It's enormously important that they develop those skills now," he emphasizes. He follows the discussion attentively, offering up carefully aimed hints at the solution. A few days later they are rewarded with the first successfully blown film.
The extruder is now ready to be put to use testing the latest plastics processing technologies. The combination of material, machine and process development is part of what has made Koch's department so successful. Each year, around 80 students complete the program for mechanical engineering and plastics technology and are highly sought after among employers. Numerous German and international companies also make frequent use of the Department of Plastics Technologies' research capacities. Among them Grafe Advanced Polymer, MöllerTech Thüringen and Schmuhl Faserverbundtechnologie, who, together with TITK Rudolstadt and STIFT Thüringen under the umbrella of the PolymerMat e.V. network, hold endowed professorship.
For Professor Koch the collaboration with B&R has been an essential element of the project seminars. "Student research is always a matter of one-off projects. That's why it's important to have a partner whose products support our conceptual approach," he explains. "Particularly the development tool, Automation Studio, allows us to work very effectively as a team." B&R technology will be featured in the next project as well – a miniature injection molding machine. Once again, the students will be tasked with all aspects of the process and the mechanical design and will rely on proven B&R technology from day one.
Automation Studio 4 supports team-oriented engineering throughout the entire project – from conceptual design and simulation to commissioning and diagnostics. Working with application modules allows entire control projects from different engineers to be loaded onto the same system and then developed further individually. What's more, all development is completely independent of what hardware is ultimately used.