“Students gain tremendously from active Steinbeis enterprises”
A discussion with Professor Dr.-Ing. L othar Kallien
Professor Kallien, your Steinbeis Transfer Center, The GTA Technology Foundry in Aalen, is based at the University of Applied Sciences in Aalen. So it’s at one of Baden-Württemberg’s strongest universities of applied sciences in terms of foundry technology research – and it runs the biggest foundry lab in southern Germany. How important is this for the work of your Steinbeis enterprise?
Teaching at Aalen University focuses more on general education with time set aside for iron and sand casting, whereas research concentrates on the die casting of light metals. Our research partners are, on the one hand, small and medium-sized enterprises from the region, with whom we look into new and innovative processes – for example, the ongoing development of die casting processes. But we also work in Aalen on research projects sponsored by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF). These involve automotive companies and their suppliers. One such project is the development of new and lighter aluminum or magnesium castings for cars.
We were delighted about the approval of an EU project which gets under way in September. The project will involve attempting to raise die casting processes to new quality levels by using artificial intelligence and self-optimizing systems. This will be in cooperation with 15 European partners. As a supplier of die casting machines, we also have access to a medium-sized company in Schorndorf near Stuttgart.
There’s a large laboratory available for research and development activities for experimenting with sand casting and gravity die casting, and there are four pressure die casting machines to pour aluminum, magnesium and zinc alloys. There’s also 3D computer tomography equipment, an X-ray machine, a tensile testing facility and a fatigue testing machine, so we can assess key material properties. It’s really important these days to simulate the optimization of new die cast parts with respect to mold filling, solidification and residual stress.
Our Steinbeis Transfer Center, The Aalen GTA Technology Foundry, is also involved in this work. Aside from broader services for manufacturing companies – ranging from alloy testing to process development and training – the GTA organizes two events. In May, there’s a two-day foundry colloquium in Aalen. The last event attracted over 240 people to Aalen, who came to talk about die casting innovations. In December, there’s the traditional Barbara Colloquium, an event at which die casting experts from all kinds of fields talk about their work. It often attracts fuover 200 people which shows that Aalen’s an important location for the industry. It’s a major benefit to students to be able to meet people from industry at the evening events and talk directly with delegates about internship semesters, bachelor theses or job openings – without going through third parties. Again, this underscores the Löhn concept developed by Steinbeis – students gain tremendously from active Steinbeis enterprises.
Your center is set up to work with manufacturing companies throughout the state to drive die casting technology forward, especially in terms of development, innovation and staff training. What trends are you noticing at the moment?
Lightweight construction is a driving force at the moment, and it will increasingly find its way into aluminum and magnesium components. Audi paved the way some time ago with its aluminum space frame. Mercedes has now unveiled the first completely aluminum car. The chassis makes intensive use of die casting processes – an innovative 44% of its content is aluminum. To make these kinds of premium value die cast parts, special casting technology and metallurgical procedures are needed. These developments raise a number of issues that need looking into quickly at our Steinbeis Transfer Center: the production of prototype die cast parts using new kinds of alloys; testing of new mold release agents; testing of the production of new composite parts consisting of several materials. What this shows is that, in the future, people will be looking more closely at amalgamated materials. The current priorities lie in core technology issues such as the production of salt cores that can withstand harsh die casting processes and be rinsed with water. Such salt cores would make it possible to die cast particularly rigid closed-deck cylinder blocks.
Also, when the economy’s doing well, staff training has a high priority on the agenda. We provide special training courses that look at theoretical issues but also practical considerations.
You founded your Steinbeis Transfer Center, the Aalen-based GTA Technology Foundry, in 2004 and are still managing it successfully today. What were your aims when you founded the center and what are the aims today?
Our current Steinbeis activities focus on the die casting of light metals, although there’s also demand for professional consulting in other areas of die cast technology. In the future, we want to be active in this area with other project managers, who’ve already gained business experience in these fields.
Albert Einstein taught us that “The important thing is not to stop questioning.” What are the key questions that will be occupying your thoughts in the years to come?
Back in January, I was asked in an interview at the Euroguss trade show what I think of productivity enhancements in the die casting process. This is no longer the key question. In the future, it’ll be more about working out how much energy and CO2 is being used to produce parts. In the future, carmakers will award contracts for components or systems to the suppliers that can prove they have the lowest carbon footprint. And in many foundries there’s still huge potential to do better in this area – an issue we can provide plenty of support with at our Steinbeis Transfer Center.