5 Key Takeaways: Solving Challenges in Processing Thermosets in Real-Time
The plastics industry has seen significant changes in the last years – both at the macro and micro level. We have closely looked at current industry trends in two webinars and shed light on the challenges of processing thermosetting materials. Utilizing the multi-faceted opportunities that digitization and collaboration have to offer allows the transformation of today’s static production processes, thus operating on the highest level of efficiency.
In this context, artificial intelligence and cloud applications play an essential role and enable companies to have full transparency in their processes. Learn about the sensXPERT® way of AI and why laboratory measurements for process optimization only scratch the surface of what is possible.
1. Global trends affect the plastics industry
We are living in a period of unprecedented change. That may sound like a cliché, but isn’t it true? We are in the midst of what we refer to as the 4th industrial revolution, with various influences, including new technologies, emerging across the board, thus putting pressure on our customers in the plastics industry to adapt their businesses to global trends:
- Sustainability targeting scrap reduction, usage of recycled materials and low- or zero-waste initiatives
- Bioresin and eco-friendly additives for developing ,i.e., biodegradable plastics
- Additive Manufacturing for prototyping, small series production, and new design concepts
- Automation and Industry 4.0 for process optimization
- Slim, lighter weight parts & tools to comply with new requirements of e-mobility
Lighter parts and components become more and more relevant using reinforced plastics, which show significant benefits over traditional materials. Besides considerable design flexibility, reinforced plastics play an essential role in the resistant behavior to mechanical effects such as corrosion, decay, fatigue, and high temperatures.
Taking advantage of the positive effects of such composite materials that incorporate fibers with thermosetting materials, the challenge to overcome the processing hurdles needs a proper control mechanism first.
2. Challenges of thermosets
From raw material to finished product stage, material storage, transport and the environment expose thermosetting material to humidity, drastically affecting manufacturing stability and, thus, the final part’s quality. Further, material transport and storage as well as other environmental influences can lead to humidity in the material, drastically impairing its processability.
What are thermosets?
In materials science, a thermosetting polymer, often called a thermoset, is a polymer that is obtained by irreversibly hardening (“curing”) a soft solid or viscous liquid prepolymer (resin). Thermosetting plastics are generally stronger than thermoplastic materials due to the three-dimensional network of bonds (crosslinking). When compounded with fibers, thermosetting resins form fiber-reinforced polymer composites.
Challenges are not only associated with pre-production conditions. Several factors, such as temperature and thermal insulation of the production utility –the mold, need continuous monitoring to ensure stable production.
Finally, material flow is another important detail. Especially for filled raw material, it is crucial to determine the intended fiber orientation. The part withstands the intended mechanical impacts by orienting the fibers in the desired direction.
Thermosetting materials are highly volatile in the process, leading to the current static setup and requiring an advanced skill-set and expert support when changing. However, with the rising shortage of skilled workers and limited understanding of the chemistry of thermosets, this is increasingly getting harder to achieve. The future has to look different and new technologies solve these shortcomings.
3. Chances through process digitization and collaboration
“We need to give the workers that are responsible for smooth production processes a tool to detect process deviations – not only when process deviations are imminent, but also what to expect in the next hours within the same batch”, states Dr. Alexander Chaloupka, CTO at sensXPERT®.
Collaboration along the supply and value chain is essential to achieving this and transforming the industry in general, just like the one between sensXPERT® and Schwarz Plastic Solutions GmbH.
“Digitization is one of the next big things in processing automation for generating safety, control, and also a financial added value to the manufacturing industry. As this is not an easy thing to realize, it only works if different technologies, companies, and experts are collaborating”, emphasizes Ingo Schwarz, Managing Director of Schwarz Plastic Solutions GmbH.
We have reached the limit of digitizing Individual processes and products! Now we need to work together to unfold their full potential. We need to understand how our technologies and products can interact with and enhance each other to design and realize holistic approaches for proper digitization – with i.e. artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud applications.
4. Artificial intelligence and cloud in the manufacturing environment
During production of thermoset parts, many things happen in a brief timeframe; sensors capture data, act as a window into a process and generate transparency to make the right decisions on adjusting parameters within cycles. Artificial intelligence is a proven tool to achieve optimizations in many fields. It is now finding its way into the plastics production landscape.
What is AI?
Artificial intelligence simulates human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. Specific applications of AI include expert systems, natural language processing, speech recognition, and machine vision. Both deep learning and machine learning are subfields of artificial intelligence.
The sensXPERT way of AI
In-situ sensors capture material data during production. Paired with our expertise in material science from laboratory measurements, we can simulate 100 thousands of datasets to see how the material behaves due to different temperatures and humidity levels. It further generates the sensor data that are associated with these deviations. With this data, we train and test our machine learning algorithms. An edge device executes the algorithms during the running process to predict the expected material behavior in real-time. Reinforcing algorithms with data from the manufacturing environment combined with each production cycle data empowers the sensXPERT® AI continuously.
sensXPERT® sensors detect the material behavior in real-time during production. Machine learning execution happens on an edge device giving relevant information about the current state of the materials back to the customer or the production machine, creating transparency, thus allowing process adaption. All data is available in the cloud environment, acting as a central dashboard interface.
“AI is not a tool that can replace people directly. It’s a tool that will help them to elevate their level of performance and to enhance production efficiency.”Dr. Alexander Chaloupka on optimizing manufacturing with AI.
Using a cloud is imperative to have a seamless interaction of the actual manufacturing environment and the AI models – of course, with state-of-the-art security layers for the highest data security.
5. Why real material behavior during production is essential for complete process control
Enhancing plastics processing with artificial intelligence is only possible with a solid foundation of material science – in this case: Key quality parameters like degree of cure and glass transition temperature.
Today’s production leans on laboratory measurements. A simulation environment predicts how a material reacts to changing process setting via temperature deviations, called reaction kinetics. While kinetic models deliver the base information, they fail to consider influences on the material like storage environment or thermal history. This kind of information is only available inside the mold during the actual production process.
That is why sensXPERT® combines both – reaction kinetics based on fundamental material science and the real material behavior– to get a clear picture about the state of the material during production.
Multiple customers use the sensXPERT® technology in the automotive and aviation industry. Here, the technology captures process adjustments like film gate, injection speed, and mold temperature that lead to material changes.
Get a deeper insight into the power of sensXPERT® by watching our two webinars:
Our experts, Dr. Alexander Chaloupka and Ingo Schwarz, are looking forward to hearing from you! Be part of our community and bring your production processes to the next level!
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