TU Kaiserslautern scientists have developed a new process for making lightweight fiber-reinforced plastics spoke wheels in an eco-friendly and efficient manner.
It takes a great deal of time to produce spoke wheels made of fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP), says team lead Dr. Marcel Bücker:
“The process involves numerous work steps, and a lot can only be done manually. In addition, a lot of the expensive material has to be used for this, because a large amount of waste is produced.”
Now a Kaiserslautern team led by Bücker, Dr. Thomas Robbert, Valentin Hörtdörfer and Frank Belyeahas, has developed a new method for manufacturing these wheels in a more economical manner.
“Compared to conventional methods, we are able to manufacture wheels much more efficiently thanks to our three-stage process,” says Robbert, a business economist.
Moreover, the new method does not produce waste and therefore has an excellent environmental balance.
“Basically, this is a so-called wet winding process in which fibers are automatically wound onto small molded parts and simultaneously formed into wheel structures,” explains Bücker.
It all begins with the engineers using a 3D printer to produce molds made of ecologically degradable plastic: The exact form is determined by a computer program.
The molds are then used to produce the wheels and are wrapped with a fiber tape on a rotating tooling plate.
“This will continue until the desired thickness for the spokes is achieved. Then the still soft strip from FRP is formed into spokes,” explains Bücker.
The final step involves another strip of fiber tape being wound around the spokes to form a complete wheel.
After the plastic has hardened, the molded parts are removed and the spoke wheel is ready for use.
What makes this method more interesting is that the size of the wheel or the number of spokes can be adjusted based on the customers’ requirements, using specially developed software.
This process could be a boon to applications where low weight combined with high performance is crucial, such as high-performance grinding wheels in manufacturing plants, or gears for wind power transmissions.
It could also improve customization of bicycle wheels or automobile rims.
Image and content: Technische Universität Kaiserslautern via PhysOrg