Walk on Water? No Problem!
Although EPUMENT®Ultralight Flow cannot perform miracles, this brand-new material comes pretty close. After all, it helps mechanical engineers by eliminating the need for complex manufacturing processes, reduces high material costs – and really can float. We catch up with Dr. Thomas Abel, Director of Laboratory at RAMPF Machine Systems, to find out more.
Thomas, when you were developing the new material EPUMENT® Ultralight Flow, that was not just out of the passion for research that is so characteristic of RAMPF – there was also any amount of pragmatism involved. Can you tell us a bit more?
Improving existing products and developing new ones is what we do day in, day out – after all, that’s what our customers and partners expect of us. But you’re right. The crises of recent years – especially the rising prices of raw materials, energy, and transportation, not to mention gaps in supply chains – posed a very specific challenge for us.
We were manufacturing a complete basic machine with axis systems for one of our customers in the laser sector. The Y carriage – a component that is mounted on linear guides and can be moved by means of a linear drive – had previously been a lightweight sandwich construction comprising two plates of steel with an aluminum foam core.
However, due to supply difficulties and challenges in terms of suppliers, especially for the welding and annealing processes, we had to go down a different path to ensure we could maintain the same quality and delivery times our customers expect of us.
Where did this path take you?
Straight to EPUMENT® Ultralight Flow! [laughs] Needless to say, this was a challenging task, since we had to develop a completely new material using an entirely new process. What’s more, this material has to meet the usual high RAMPF standards and be absolutely competitive in terms of price, process reliability, and sustainability. But thanks to outstanding teamwork, we succeeded in developing Ultralight Flow, a material based on an epoxy resin with a special lightweight filler, and the associated process within a really short period of time.
What are the advantages for mechanical engineers?
Thanks to its very low density of 0.7 g/cm³ and the excellent vibration damping that is characteristic of RAMPF products, Ultralight Flow is ideally suited as a vibration-damping filler for components that exhibit dynamic movement. In the case of all machines involving highly dynamic processes, for example conventional tooling machines as well as laser and production machinery for the semiconductor industry, a vibration-damping filling material for moving components can significantly improve the machine’s precision and performance.
Besides the benefit in terms of vibration damping, using EPUMENT® Ultralight Flow as the filler also helps boost the rigidity of the filled components.
Up until now, these components have usually been manufactured as welded constructions made from aluminum or carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics. Given the sharp increases in the prices of these raw materials and, in some cases, problems in terms of availability, a lightweight component made with Ultralight Flow offers very real benefits. All our new technology needs is simple welded constructions made from thin metal sheets that are filled and then processed.
And what is all this about it being able to float?
It’s quite simple, really. EPUMENT® Ultralight Flow has a density of 0.7 g/cm³, while the density of water is around 1 g/cm³. So our material really can float!
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