Aachen, Germany, is a very old city. The Romans enjoyed its hot springs, and Charlemagne made it the capital of his new Holy Roman Empire in 800 A.D. The cathedral, or Dom, once Charlemagne’s private chapel, dates from that era. Since 1950, Aachen has been making history in plastics processing, as well.

That date saw the founding of the Institute for Plastics Processing, known by its German initials as the IKV. This branch of the RWTH Aachen technical university has not only graduated hundreds of plastics engineers who have been industry leaders in Germany and abroad, but its government- and industry-funded research has been the incubator of many new technologies, one of the most recent being water injection molding.

Every other year, graduate students at the IKV present the results of their research at a two-day International Colloquium. I was fortunate enough to attend this year and to hear many of the 50 presentations (in German with simultaneous translation) and to learn about additional work during the laboratory open house. There was considerable emphasis on computer process simulation (Cadmould, Cadwind, Express, and more CAE software was developed here), such as of pellet conveying in single-screw extruders (see p. 23), deformation of inserts in injection molding, PP preform heating in stretch-blow molding, air-bubble movement in SMC compression molding, high-speed tensile deformation in automotive crashes, and mechanical properties of injection molded microcellular foams based on process variables.

The biggest emphasis, howoever, was on new processing methods. For example, using ultrasonic vibration to plasticate melt for micromolding. Or real-time control of injection mold filling from start to finish with cavity-pressure sensors. Or injection molding automotive ducts with hard and soft sections and hollowed out with water injection. Other projects seek to improve blown film cooling with humid air, control parison thickness in blow molding in real time, and raise electrical conductivity of plastics by blending them with low-melding metal alloys. In composites, IKV researchers are developing techniques to improve pultrusion of polyurethanes, make foam-core SMC sandwich structures in one step, fill RTM parts with high levels of flame-retardant fillers, and mold hollow thermoplastic composite parts.

We will be reporting on these and other developments in upcoming issues. Some of the work was discussed at last year’s SPE ANTEC, and more will appear at this year’s ANTEC.