“Students gain tremendously from active Steinbeis enterprises”

A discussion with Professor Dr.-Ing. Lothar 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. 

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