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Technologies for the future

The automotive industry is confronted with constant challenges and new technologies - R + S Technik provides insights in an interview with K-ZEITUNG.

With new ideas and intelligent machine interlinking, R + S Technik has set standards in the field of automation, as Thimo van Gessel, Sales Manager at R + S Technik, explains.

As one of the market leaders in the manufacture of tools and machines for the production of interior and exterior parts for the automotive industry, R + S Technik can rely on 70 years of know-how. R + S Technik's customers include Tier 1 suppliers to the automotive industry, as Thimo van Gessel, Sales Manager at R + S Technik, emphasizes in an interview with K-ZEITUNG: "It doesn't matter whether the customer is a global player or a medium-sized supplier with special solutions for special vehicles or small series". As an internationally operating company, R + S Technik is also confronted with different standards and requirements in the respective markets. "Quality, adherence to schedules, innovations and cost efficiency play a role everywhere," explains van Gessel. "In the automotive industry, the delivery date of a fully functioning plant or tool is the most valuable commodity." R + S Technik is also convincing when it comes to innovations and new developments: with PPI technology the company has combined four production processes: press/forming, punching/trimming, back-injection of functional components as well as laminating a decor. The technology has a significant advantage over other suppliers, as van Gessel explains: "There are no visible markings or sink marks on the visible side of the components. All in all, the process is an absolute innovation in the manufacture of interior trim parts made of natural fiber materials."

Use of natural fibers

In order to combine these process steps in a single one-shot tool, a great deal of experience is required in the field of toolmaking. The use of natural fibers in the automotive sector is one of the topics to which R + S Technik pays special attention. "Together with a well-known OEM and a global automotive supplier, we have co-developed a natural fiber," says van Gessel. It was used for the first time in a series-produced electric vehicle. "The innovation is that natural fibers are no longer laminated with decors or artificial leather, but made visible. We also work with other suppliers to make these visible natural fibres, also known as 'nature look', possible. In combination with this, we want to make the components lighter overall, for example to save fuel or reduce the overall weight, as in the case of electric vehicles".

Alternative structures

For companies such as R + S Technik it is important to actively shape and advance new trends and market developments in the automotive sector - also in the field of electrical and hydrogen technology: "We have to react to how the vehicle as a whole will develop in the future. Today, we are already changing seat structures that are still made of steel or other metals. Here we are already relying on natural fibers. With the help of our PPI technology, we can realize stable components that can also withstand crash behavior. Our focus here is also on replacing components that are still made of metals or plastics, for example, in order to change the structure of the entire vehicle." As a further example, van Gessel also mentions the area of autonomous driving. R + S Technik has already been working in this field for several years with a manufacturer of electric vehicles based in Aachen. "For this manufacturer's first vehicle, we designed the complete interior, such as doors, floor assemblies and much more. We are currently also involved in an autonomous electrically driven minibus of this manufacturer. To help shape this and bring in the influence of a toolmaker and machine builder and to help decide which things are possible and which are not, are the things that will occupy us in the industry in the coming years." In order to be able to keep up with the constantly increasing individualization of products, the systems must become even more flexible. An important core topic of recent years, also for R + S Technik, as van Gessel emphasizes: "We have set an example with new ideas in automation and the intelligent linking of individual machines to form a production line with much lower personnel requirements". The plant concepts also include robots of all kinds: from simple linear handling systems to industrial robots and collaborative robot technology. Van Gessel also knows how important these can be for the flexibility of a system: "We are currently building the first three systems, which were designed as individual machines from the outset. These are then linked together using robot handling. They are therefore designed from the outset to be able to react flexibly to follow-up or change orders."

Exploiting potential

But where can technology be further exploited in the future to make plants and machines even more efficient - and where are the limits? As van Gessel reveals: "The efficiency of a machine always depends on the so-called 'bottleneck'. If, for example, I have a product that has to cool down or heat up for a certain amount of time, I can design everything else as efficiently as I want, the product simply needs that certain amount of time." The company has also developed ideas and concepts in this field and has already been able to put them into practice, for example in a system that produces door panels and instrument panels, as van Gessel reveals: "A product is manufactured in natural fibres that remain visible in the vehicle. The natural fiber decor used in this process takes a certain amount of time to heat up, reach the required process temperature and be deformable. We were able to divide the heating process, which lasted at least 90 seconds in itself, into two parallel steps, i.e. halve it in 2 x 45 seconds. The rest - driving away, driving into the tool, closing the tool, cooling and removing it - is done in 40 seconds, for example. Normally, the machine would have stood still for more than half the time." By halving the heating process, the company was able to almost double machine efficiency.

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