Carbon-fiber Musclepower

The groundbreaking cluster MAI Carbon set itself the ambitious goal of developing carbon fiber-reinforced plastics that could be mass-produced by 2020. Here’s how its members are revolutionizing production processes to reach that target.

June, 2018

Back in 2012, the cluster MAI Carbon set out an ambitious eightyear plan. The Managing Director Tjark von Reden had just received €40m in funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The investment raised the profile of MAI Carbon as one of the most innovative and elite clusters in the country, and its goal to produce carbon fiber-reinforced plastics suitable for mass production provoked interest from across the industry.

Carbon fiber production in progress at the Technical University Munich, Garching, showing the interweaving and bundling of the carbon fibers. The technology is used widely in aerospace production and in multiple applications including shock absorbers, suspension in bikes and vehicles, and in advanced industrial production processes.

© Hans-Bernhard Huber/laif

Although carbon fiber-reinforced plastics are now a key component in the production of lightweight products in the aerospace industry, they are not yet suitable for mass production. They still lack the process security, short cycle times and economic scalability necessary to become a go-to material in the automotive and engineering industries. To
achieve their goal, the cluster members realized they needed to bring about multiple innovations along the supply chain: they had to revolutionize the production process.

Redesigning and recycling

“We really needed to cut production costs and reduce production cycle times,” says von Reden. The cluster identified multiple projects, each one being realized by a handful of members working together. Von Reden coordinates and supports the different projects, tracks their progress and evaluates the results – that so far have been more than satisfying. “We have made progress much faster than we expected,” he says.

In the last six years, the network has managed to reduce waste by about 60 per cent on average for different production processes. “When we started working on the project, 30 to 50 per cent of the fibers were tossed during the production process,” he says. “We now have new processes that reduce waste to less than ten per cent and are much faster, which saves a lot of money.”