A plastics research facility has been put into operation at the Technical University of Ilmenau. The heart of the new system, the twin-screw extruder, is used to research new technologies for processing and recycling plastics. The Thuringian Ministry of Economics, Science and Digital Society financed 90 percent of the total costs of around 500,000 euros from the “FTI Thuringia Research” funding program, while the TITK – Thuringian Institute for Textile and Plastics Research e. V. contributed 50,000 euros.

Michael Riemer from the Department of Plastics Technology and student Laura Schramme monitor the process flow on the extrusion line. Photo: TU Ilmenau / Eleonora Hamburg

The new plastics plant from Leistritz replaces a twin-screw extruder at the Department of Plastics Technology at Ilmenau Technical University, which had been in operation for 32 years. In order to be able to use plastics and plastic products sustainably, it enables research not only into their recycling, but also into their so-called upcycling. Used plastic objects are transformed into new products, which may be equipped with additional functions and can then be reused. Unlike recycling, however, the items are not broken down into their original components, but used as they are. The new plant will also drive forward research into the highly demanding processing and recycling of bioplastics and the processing of so-called highly filled plastics, i.e. materials that have been given thermal or electrical properties.

Dosing devices and side feeders can be used to add raw materials such as plastics, additives, fillers and reinforcing materials or even reactive components to the twin-screw extruder, even in liquid form, which was not possible with the old system. These raw materials are melted and mixed in the extruder at a defined temperature. After volatile components have been removed from the resulting highly viscous plastic mixture by a vacuum, the new mixture finally emerges from the extruder and can be further processed, for example into plastic films, injection-molded parts for vehicles or fibers for respiratory masks.

Particularly suitable for basic research

A twin-screw extrusion system, such as the one now available on a laboratory scale at the TU Ilmenau and the TITK, is ideally suited for basic research at the university. The head of the Plastics Technology departmentProf. Florian Puch, also has an eye on the significance of the investments for specific applications in industry: “The knowledge we gain with the system can be scaled up to pilot plant scale and small production scale at TITK, which conducts business-oriented research and development. In this way, we, TITK and TU Ilmenau, are jointly enabling the transfer of basic research via application-oriented research and development ultimately to industry, in particular to small and medium-sized companies in the region.”

Three years ago, TU Ilmenau and TITK had already coordinated their investment strategies and purchased a new sheet extrusion system and installed it at TITK in Rudolstadt. Benjamin Redlingshöfer, Director of TITK, is delighted with the joint investment in state-of-the-art plastics technology: “With the new facility, we are covering the entire research value chain: from basic research at the university to industry transfer at TITK. It is now also fully equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. The investment in the new facility demonstrates a lively cooperation between TU Ilmenau and TITK and is also an efficient use of taxpayers’ money.”

The new plastics plant will be used immediately in various research projects, including in two research centers based at the TU Ilmenau, the Thuringian Innovation Center for Mobility and the Thuringian Center for Mechanical Engineering. In future, however, it will not only be used for innovative research, but also for teaching at the TU Ilmenau. Students, doctoral candidates and interns can now receive up-to-date training in the material development of plastics and plastics process engineering using the modern plant technology.

Picture above: The TU Ilmenau and the TITK have put the new extrusion plant into operation. (from left) Christopher Kappenberger, Leistritz company, Prof. Jens Müller, Vice President for International Relations and Transfer TU Ilmenau, Prof. Florian Puch, Head of the Department of Plastics Technology TU Ilmenau, Benjamin Redlingshöfer, Director TITK. Photo: TU Ilmenau / Eleonora Hamburg

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