Research project combines electronics with car body components

Research project combines electronics with car body components

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By Christoph Hammerschmidt

Cars are getting heavier with each generation – a trend that comes at the expense of energy consumption. A Fraunhofer research project intends to counteract this trend. The idea is to integrate electronic components into mechanical lightweight structures. Electric vehicles in particular would benefit from this.

Vehicle structural components in thermoplastic sandwich FRP lightweight construction can ensure the lowest possible vehicle weight and thus reduced energy consumption or a longer range – this is the basic idea of an interdisciplinary research team of the Fraunhofer Institute IMWS and partners from industry. In the R&D project “InThElekt”, the engineers and scientists intend to turn this idea into reality. However, the design of such polymer lightweight structures is a challenge for the connected electronic components. Because first there is an important hurdle to overcome: The support structures produced in thermoplastic sandwich FRP technology have a lower thermal conductivity than conventional metallic support structures, which are good at dissipating the heat generated by electronics. Since this could also have a negative effect on the reliability of the electronics, concepts must be found to deheat the electronic components and optimise the thermal conductivity.

In the joint project, twelve partners – in addition to the Fraunhofer IMWS, these include Volkswagen, the automotive suppliers Robert Bosch GmbH and ElringKlinger AG as well as numerous research institutes and engineering companies – are researching an efficient technology for the large-scale production of integral vehicle structural components based on thermoplastic fibre composites with adapted electronic components. The focus is on the interaction of innovative lightweight plastics technology and novel technologies for the integration of electronic components in future e-vehicles. Within the scope of this project, novel electronic potting materials, thermal management and interface concepts will be researched. Finally, the research results will be applied to a selected Volkswagen assembly.

Ecological effect meets operating cost reduction

The overall goal of the project is a significant reduction of the Global Warming Potential based on the materials, technologies and construction methods used. The lower vehicle weight should improve driving performance; in addition, the improved recyclability and reduced manufacturing effort should help to reduce the CO2 balance. Novel heat dissipation concepts and optimised potting compounds should also be able to create highly heat-conductive thermal transitions and thus increase the reliability of electronic systems.

The developers are focusing in particular on the interfaces between modern plastic-based lightweight structures and electronic systems, explains Matthias Biegerl, coordinator of the joint project at ElringKlinger. The company has been working on this topic for many years and is pursuing the intention of making this technology ready for series production and transferring it to other structural and crash-relevant components.

The Fraunhofer IMWS is contributing the expertise from its two business units “Materials and Components for Electronics” and “Polymer Applications” to the project. “Plastic-based lightweight structures require new electronic system concepts with optimised thermal conductivity and cooling. This requires analyses of the relationship between technological manufacturing processes and application conditions, the microstructure and material properties as well as the functional properties that depend on them,” says Sandy Klengel, deputy head of the Business Unit Materials and Components of Electronics at the Fraunhofer IMWS.

The project is part of the “New Vehicle and System Technologies” programme funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection and has a duration of three years. The project is divided into three sub-projects: “Thermoplastic Sandwich Structural Components”, “Adapted Electronic Components” and “Demonstrator Structure with Adapted Electronics Component.”

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