The adjustable properties of plastics have propelled them to the center of an extensive range of applications. These include food packaging and other disposables through to highly stressed, lightweight components such as fiber-reinforced structurs for the aerospace industry. Since the mid 20th century, they have developed steadily into a technology driver in a wide variety of future-relevant industries and have become an integral part of everyday life. The wealth of benefits plastics bring to numerous applications, however, are increasingly coming up against the challenge presented by the requirement for environment-friendly product disposal at the end of the product life cycle.
A fully recyclable and partially biodegradable fiber-metal laminate (FML) suitable for the production of air freight or residential containers, for example, is being developed as part of the "Bio-FML" project. An energy efficient manufacturing system for the ecological hybrid material and of meeting all demands related to commercial use is likewise under development.
Since thermoplastic biomaterials and natural fibres can be recycled and composted, they have enormous potential to reduce environmental pollution but have, to date, been unable to establish themselves as a result of the price and technical advantages of conventional materials. A new manufacturing system developed in the "Bio-FML" project will be capable of mass-producing hybrid materials from bio-materials cost-effectively: In this process, a bio-plastic is mechanically reinforced with textile, semi-finished products made of natural fibers (NFRP) and covered with metallic top layers in a sandwich construction. The physical properties of natural fibers have a natural variance, which is compensated by the metal cover layers. In addition, the metallic lamination of the composite core enables it to be processed using conventional metalworking technologies. The new manufacturing process is characterized by the absence of expensive impregnation presses. This saves investment costs and lowers the component manufacturing costs. The new material also benefits from competitive properties, such as a robust, paintable surface.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT is collaborating with three project partners to develop a cost-effective system for continuous production of the sustainable hybrid material. During the impregnation and joining process, the metallic sheet material serves as a tool for heat and pressure transfer and finally forms the top layer on both sides of the hybrid material. A laser process for surface treatment will be integrated into the production system in order to achieve a firm joint between the NFRP core and the metal. This micro joint makes it possible to eliminate environmentally unfriendly adhesives and to recycle the material at the end of the product cycle by applying heat.