Volkswagen Group's Open Hybrid LabFactory in Wolfsburg is working on lightweight construction materials and production processes.
The materials under research are hybrid with metal, plastic and textiles all being mixed and tested to develop components for use in serial production that are as light as possible while also stable and economic.
In the Technikum, a hall is filled by a 30m long textile machine. The sides of the machine are equipped with high racks containing rolls of glass fibre that are fed into the machine using spools. The mixing process takes place in the middle section of the machine which combines bright glass fibres with dark carbon fibres to create a stable fabric.
"Carbon fibres are lighter and more stable than glass fibres. But they are also more expensive," said Felix Eichleiter, managing director of the factory.
"An optimal fabric will use carbon fibres in precisely those areas that are subject to special wear. These are exactly the places where they should be used. This is what we are working on here."
A forming press marries metal with plastic in the hall next door. With 3,600 tonnes of force, it presses steel and other materials into the desired form. The metal is next introduced to hot liquid plastic, which then cools.
"The seat developers at the Sitech company used this press to make the very first component of the Open Hybrid LabFactory – the prototypes of a lightweight-construction backrest," Eichleiter noted. The Technikum is surrounded by 12 labs where experts analyse materials and test quality of hybrid bonds.
A recently established broad alliance supports the research factory. A group of 28 partners collaborate under the guidance of the Lower Saxony Research Center for Motor Vehicle Technology at the Technical University of Braunschweig.
Partners include Volkswagen and ThyssenKrupp plus universities and institutes that are part of the Fraunhofer Society. The consortium receives support from the German government's research campus programme.
This campus is expectd to set standards in the development of low-emission, safe and reasonably priced vehicles. In the process, it should be a pioneer in research on lightweight automobile construction.
Eichleiter said: "We are tackling this task head-on. any projects and tests are already under way." About 130 specialists from the group of partners are currently working at the LightweightCampus. The number is scheduled to rise to more than 200 over the mid-term.
With electromobility and digitalisation set to change vehicles in coming years, he stressed the strengths of new hybrid material combinations will not get lost in the shuffle. "Lighter components will always be a plus – no matter whether you are talking about the power plant or the degree of connectedness."