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Pilot line based on novel manufacturing technologies for cellulose-based electrical insulation components

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - NOVUM (Pilot line based on novel manufacturing technologies for cellulose-based electrical insulation components)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2022-03-31

The project started with two main objectives; firstly, to develop and demonstrate a compact and feasible pilot line concept based on novel processing technologies for rapid, design driven production of advanced cellulose-based electrical insulation components and secondly, to use the newly developed pilot line to manufacture two different types of electrical insulation components meeting the technical product requirements. In addition, the project sought to achieve 40% reduction in labour, 20% increase in energy efficiency, 60% decrease in waste generation and 40% lower operating costs, compared to the state-of-the manufacturing process for cellulose-based insulation components, currently used by the industry. Starting from M31, the project scope was widened to include two new end use applications, components for marine and automotive industry. Material development for thermoplastic cellulose-based composite proceeded together with development of the selected 3D printing technology, Fused Granular Fabrication (FGF). The concept was further developed in small scale and development of completely new larger-scale FGF core process was also conducted. This large-scale FGF printer was part of the NOVUM pilot line and was used for the component manufacturing in the demonstration actions. The pilot line was complemented with fully automated post-processing line including for example visual inspection and machining for finalizing the components. The project met the two original main objectives; a feasible pilot line concept was developed and demonstrated at TRL 6/7. The demonstration was achieved not only for the electrical insulation components, but also for the decorative elements for marine industry. In addition, the material feasibility was demonstrated for automotive application, namely a car dashboard component, using the existing machinery within the industry, injection moulding, thus fulfilling the new targets set during the project life-time. The processing concept developed in the project with fully automated process and multi-material/process capabilities is totally unique. The environmental assessment revealed reduced CO2 emissions and use of fossil resources for manufacturing of the cellulose-based material, decorative elements and car dashboard. The social life cycle assessment identified several social benefits, such as new job positions and market applications. The technical feasibility study showed that the process based on 3D printing has a potential to reduce the labour time by 90% (from 30 h to 3 h), energy consumption by 50% (from 10 kWh to 5 kWh) and waste generation by 50% (from 40% to 20%), compared to the state-of-the art process for manufacturing of cellulose-based electrical insulation components. This is very well in line with the overall target of the project.
Altogether 60 different thermoplastic cellulose-based compounds were developed during the project lifetime. The best suitability of these materials is dependent of the end use applications and is potentially different for each of the three applications. Regarding the requirements of electrical insulation, the best material almost fulfilled the demanding criteria; it fulfilled the electric properties but was lacking some 20% of the mechanical properties. However, there is still potential for improvement. For marine applications, the material still needs to be improved for its UV and fire retardancy properties. For automotive applications, the material was shown to be compatible with the existing manufacturing process (injection moulding) and met the mechanical and thermal material requirements.
Following the selection of the 3D printing technology. the small-scale Fused Granular Fabrication (FGF) core process was further developed In addition, development of completely new larger-scale FGF core process was conducted, hand in hand with the thermoplastic cellulose-based composite material development and material and component testing. The large-scale FGF printer was part of the NOVUM pilot line and was used for the component manufacturing in the demonstration actions. In addition, development of foam forming technology was continued and foams consisting of cellulose fibers were printed using a nozzle arrangement developed in the project.
The design, building, testing and validation of the pilot line based on the novel processing technologies was carried out and the concept was demonstrated at TRL 6/7 at the end of the project. The pilot line includes processing by 3D printing technology and post-processing steps such as visual inspection and machining. The pilot line is fully automated and the concept is unique.
Technical feasibility and health & safety aspects of the new processes, as well as the sustainability of the whole concept in terms of economic, environmental and social aspects were assessed. Several positive economic, environmental and social impacts were identified.
The basis of the dissemination activities was on creating content on the NOVUM website, posting on social media, technical presentations in various targeted (on-line) events, participating in trade fairs, preparing descriptive videos on the project outcome and hosting a final open house event where the pilot line was demonstrated to the wider audience. Exploitation activities included update on market analysis to include the new end use applications in the project and preparing the final business and exploitation plans for the project results.
A wide variety of thermoplastic cellulose-based composite materials, suitable for both 3D printing and injection moulding, were developed and their applicability for electrical insulation, marine and automotive components tested. The material strength properties of the materials are at the same level or better than commercial references (PLA-based) and they have higher cellulose content (total cellulose content up to 70%) than commercially available bio-based materials. Development of selected 3D printing core process, Fused Granular Fabrication (FGF) for the cellulose-based material, was conducted first at small-scale and continued further as development of completely new larger-scale FGF core process. The large-scale FGF printer was implemented as part of the NOVUM pilot line and was used for the component manufacturing in the demonstration actions. A fully automated pilot line showcasing processing of the developed cellulose-based material by 3D printing into components and their further post-processing was demonstrated at the end of the project. The social life cycle assessment identified several social benefits for the production concept, such as new job positions and market applications. Environmental impacts include potential for reduced CO2 emissions and use of fossil resources. The developed concept is completely unique and has the potential to reduce the labour time by 90% (from 30 h to 3 h), energy consumption by 50% (from 10 kWh to 5 kWh) and waste generation by 50% (from 40% to 20%), compared to the state-of-the art process for manufacturing of cellulose-based electrical insulation components.
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