Today, it is still impossible to optimally use all possibilities offered by lightweight products when designing structures in sheet material because we fail to integrate the uncertainty and variability of the production process as well as the thickness distribution of the final product in the design. Accordingly, a model combining both aspects can be very interesting.
This is exactly what Flanders Make and our research partners Siemens Industry Software and Borit, with the support of OCAS (advanced research centre for steel applications), have designed. In our research, we linked the process and product modelling of sheet material to one another so as to be able to produce better sheet material products in a more efficient way.
The metal industry often uses presses to transform a semi-finished product into a finished product. For instance: Borit, a manufacturer of components for fuel cells, heat exchangers, electrolysis applications and temperature control systems in Geel, makes use of a press for shaping its fuel cell components. The sheet comes from a coil and is led into the press. Water under high pressure pushes the sheet from below into the aimed at shape, i.e. the shape of a mould that is suspended above the sheet.
When transforming sheet material, you always start with a flat sheet with a certain nominal thickness. When it is then engraved, the sheet will be locally thinned. This process can be simulated in a process model so that you can predict material deformations such as, for instance, this thinning effect.
On the other hand, a product model can be used to calculate certain features of the finished product, for instance the stiffness and mass of a particular finished product.
In our project, both models were linked to one another in a clear tool that can be used to include the effect on thickness distribution and other parameters in a simulation of the product. In other words, this tool enables to assess the impact of your production process on the features of the finished product.
Our project partner Siemens, for instance, examines the effects of the production process on composites. The predicted features of the finished product are also tested against the actual practice. Siemens performed, among others, vibration analyses and compared the results with simulations made by the newly developed software. Conclusion: the results were good.
This method has the capacity to optimise the production process so that the aimed at features of the finished product are also achieved in practice. As a result, the weight of products can be reduced without losing sight of the various product requirements.
In addition, the risk of failure is reduced to an absolute minimum and the costs associated with a trial and error process are significantly lowered.
The methods and technologies that have been developed in this project are made available to the entire Flemish manufacturing industry. We’ve developed all tools to the maximum extent possible with standard software packages so that they can be used by all industrial companies.
Borit joined the project with much enthusiasm. First, they made small moulds of the sheet components that are difficult to shape. These moulds were then tested on their press. You can imagine that such manual actions take plenty of time and energy. Now, Borit employees can perform a great deal of these repetitive tasks through simulation packages before ordering a mould for the component to be shaped. OCAS supports Borit with this process simulation. Result: thanks to the use of our tools, manual iterations on the press become redundant and, at the same time, Borit has been able to improve the efficiency and accuracy of its manufacturing process.
Suzanne Van Poppel - Core Lab Manager