Research Spotlight

Computer-Aided Design of Medical Membranes

Steinbeis experts develop simulation software

Membrane technology plays a crucial role in a variety of industrial applications, especially medical technology, where porous membrane structures are used in processes like microfiltration, ultrafiltration and dialysis. They are needed to pressure-induce liquids like blood by passing it through fine porous structures. Liquids have different levels of viscosity and contain elastic or rigid particles of different sizes. As these pass through membranes, the porous structures act as a filter and retain large crystalline particles, allowing small elastic constituents to go through. Scientists at the Institute of Materials and Processes (IMP) at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences are now able to offer the simulation of porous structures using 3D computer modeling, and simulate liquids in capillary as well as flow processes. These services are offered in a simulation framework called Pace3D via the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Material Simulation and Process Optimization.

Medical diagnostics sometimes involve using synthetic membranes to conduct lateral flow testing. This is done by applying small quantities of a liquid medium to a membrane, whereby the capillary effect works like a chemical indicator strip. Liquid propagation in the membrane is dictated by a number of microstructural factors affecting dispersion rates: the surface properties, the complexity of the porous structures, and the anisotropic orientation. Capillary effects are influenced directly by the wetting properties of fluids on the membrane surface and the surface curvature. In turn, surface curvature is dictated by pore sizes. Small pores and high levels of surface curvature have an accelerating effect, but on the other hand, small pores result in a larger specific surface of the microstructures and this raises viscous friction. To achieve the optimum membrane design even with the lowest possible volumes of fluid and the most efficient level of transportation, it is extremely important to understand the mutual impact of microstructures and the properties of fluid propagation.

New 3D computer models now make it possible to create specific kinds of porous membrane structures, control the distribution of pore sizes, and define the geometry of web structures. These computergenerated membranes can be used as a starting point for microstructure simulations of capillary-driven or pressure-induced fluid dissipation in porous structures. The results of fluid simulations reflect the direct correlations between pore structures within the membrane and the efficiency of fluid exploitation. This information can then be used in diagnostic processes or to design the function of a filter on a computer by optimizing membrane structures. The 3D computer models can subsequently be shared with membrane producers for use in their manufacturing processes. All of this modeling is possible thanks to the Pace3D software, and these methods can also be applied to the computer-aided design of other porous microstructures such as foams and granular powders. Typical areas of application include heat storage systems based on zeolite particles, metal foams used as a material for lightweight construction, and powders used as a basic ingredient of sintered materials found in ceramics production and metallurgy. So in a nutshell, these simulation techniques make it possible to examine a whole variety of materials.

Technical Education Bolsters Germany’s Innovative Power

Steinbeis team conducts research with the IMP at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences

In April, eight young researchers at the German Association of Technical Education (DGTB) were invited to tour the manufacturing technology labs of the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences. The invitation came from Prof. Dr.- Ing. Rüdiger Haas, managing director of the Institute of Materials and Processes (IMP) at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, and Director of the Institute for Transfer Technologies and Integrated Systems (SITIS), a Steinbeis Transfer Center. The group of young researchers was accompanied by the chairman of the DGTB, Prof. Dr. Christian Wiesmüller and Dr. Maja Jeretin-Kopf, who chairs the Young Scientists Committee at the DGTB.

The researchers took part in a discussion round with experts to hear more about the status of technical education in non-vocational schools. They explored issues resulting from insufficient education in technical areas and discussed the impact this has on young scientists. Christian Wiesmuller highlighted the importance of research in the field of technical education, saying that not enough progress has been made in recent years with plans to establish general technical education in Germany. He believes that there are plenty of sophisticated teaching methods and concepts, but far too many children and teenagers are not being given the chance to discover their personal interests and abilities. His hope is that more intensive research will influence this.

Rudiger Haas drew the researchers’ attention to the situation at manufacturing companies, where rising demand for continuing professional education at companies is being fuelled by demographic change and skilled worker shortages. Younger generations are likely to work until they are older and they need to be prepared for this. At the same time, the rich experience and specialist knowledge of older people is gaining in importance, and this is being seen as a valuable resource within the process of value creation. Haas said that German competitiveness is largely dictated by the country’s ability to safeguard specialist and management resources, despite the shrinking population of workers – and this is only possible by gearing training to different age groups. Mechanical engineering and the machine tool industry are central to the German economy. Innovative manufacturing processes and rising levels of digitalization at the workplace require appropriate training and qualification measures to enable older workers to learn how to work with new technologies, still remain active at an older age, and determine their own workplace activities. The IMP has taken upon itself to look further into these issues. In collaboration with the University of Education in Karlsruhe, it is researching issues related to technical education and educational methods in keeping with the concept of “life-long technical education.”


Prof. Dr.-Ing. Rüdiger Haas
Steinbeis Transfer Center Institute for Transfer Technologies and Integrated Systems SITIS (Karlsruhe)

Dr. Maja Jeretin-Kopf
Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences Institute of Materials and Processes (IMP) (Karlsruhe) 

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