At Norma Group, plastics to have big role
Norma Group SE (Maintal, Germany), a global market leader in engineered joining technology, expects plastics to play a key role in helping manufacturers in a wide variety of industries meet future needs for lighter components to reduce weight and meet environmental goals. Engineers in the automotive, marine and aerospace industries are especially focused on weight reduction, as well as sustainability and the reduction of greenhouse gases.
Michael Potts, vice president of sales and business development for the OEM business at Norma Group Americas (Auburn Hills, MI), said that the company is expanding its product development facilities around the world with a focus on plastic components. The company is investing more than $1 million to expand its North American test labs and product development facilities in the Detroit area and in Monterrey, Mexico. Similar investments are being made at Norma Group locations in Qingdao and Changzhou, China; Hustopece, Czech Republic; Maintal, Germany; Pilica, Poland; and Subotica, Serbia.
About 300 employees work in the Norma Group’s R&D organization globally. R&D, test facility and product design engineering employees work constantly on developing new solutions and optimizing existing systems.
Potts said that an increasing emphasis is being placed on testing and development of plastic products, as well as metal connectors that help to reduce the overall weight of end products.
“The expansion of our laboratories on a global basis allows us to cover an even broader range of complex test requirements for our customers,” he said. “In this way, we also can ensure the same high standards in quality testing throughout the world.”
Plastic applications are tested at eight of the company’s 12 test facilities around the world. In Asia, Europe and the Americas, new testing machinery offers accelerated lifetime testing to ensure product longevity.
New plastic tubing and components for next-generation system designs are lighter and easier to assemble than many current product solutions that rely on metal or rubber, according to Jonathan Heywood, director of product engineering for Norma Group’s Engineered Joining Technology business in Europe.
“Tubes and connectors in a wide variety and combination of plastics provide an optimal solution for customer needs for durable, recyclable light-weight parts,” Heywood said. “Plastic components with low fluid permeability and the ability to withstand wide temperature variations are ideal for hydrogen lines and battery-cooling applications.”
Heywood said that plastics also can help engine manufacturers and their customers, especially in the automotive, commercial-vehicle and marine industries, reduce weight and so lessen CO² emissions. For example, newer and stricter exhaust standards such as Euro 6 in Europe and EPA-15 in Canada, Mexico and the US will increasingly require technology that continues to reduce nitric-oxide emissions from diesel engines.
In the Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) process used to reduce diesel-engine emissions, urea is injected into the exhaust stream under high pressure. The use of urea solutions such as AdBlue or Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) has been proven to cut the emission of nitric oxide from diesel engines by up to 90%. High-performance lines to transport these additives are needed, however, to more cleanly and efficiently burn diesel fuel in next-generation engines. Norma Group is developing components to meet these next-generation needs.
Potts said that lines carrying fluid from storage to the SCR urea injector have special test requirements. They must, for example, withstand temperatures of up to 300° C and pass long-term durability tests of up to 3000 hours. At the same time various pressure-load tests of up to 20 bar (290 psi) also are performed.
Urea solutions present certain other engineering challenges as well. AdBlue and other urea solutions freeze at −11.5° C (11.3° F). In cold climates, additional heating is required. Usually, urea-solution lines are electrically heated, which affects the design of a vehicle’s electrical system.
The Norma Group, however, has developed an addition to its family of urea transport systems that uses heat generated by an engine’s cooling system to warm the urea solution. Fluid transport lines for this Norma Group product now run the urea solution line parallel to lines from the coolant system. Both are enclosed by a corrugated plastic pipe and heat released by engine coolant is transferred to the urea solution with only a slight loss of heat to the surrounding environment. The lines are made of special weight-reduced plastics rather than heavier metal or rubber. The new system also is designed to simplify the installation and removal of the lines.
Urea lines also undergo vibration testing to simulate in-service vehicle operation, and aging is simulated using water and salt solutions. Seal, pull-off force and twisting torque are measured as well. Potts said that automotive and commercial-vehicle manufacturers have placed orders for the new lines, which are an addition to the company’s current and well-regarded urea lines already in use.
The advantages of in-house testing for the Norma Group include a steady growth of know-how within the organization; rapid availability of test results for engineers and customers; elimination of external inspections; and a reduction in delivery times.
“The reliability of joining products is of major importance because they are considered to be mission critical: if only one element develops a leak, this can have a negative effect on the entire vehicle’s ability to function,” Potts said. “For example, urea lines are a critical component of a vehicle’s emission-control system and SCR exhaust-gas after-treatment.”
Norma Group engineers are developing the next generation of joining systems with lighter-weight plastics that are even more resistant to high temperatures and pressures. And in accordance with its sustainability strategy, Norma Group also is using plastics that can be reused or recycled.
“Plastic materials which can be reused or recycled are becoming more and more important,” Potts said. “They also offer an opportunity to replace conventional materials, which often are heavier and more expensive.”
For example, the company recently announced the development of a new quick connector made of recyclable plastics such as fiberglass-reinforced polyamide 6 (PA 6) or polyamide 12 (PA 12). Norma Group’s V2-XC (X-treme Conditions) connector withstands especially high temperatures, pressures and vibration.
Well-suited for trucks, as well as commercial and agricultural vehicles, the V2-XC can be used in systems for air intake and crankcase ventilation. The new connector can maintain temperatures of up to 150° C and overpressure of up to five bar.
“Our customer requirements are steadily increasing,” Potts said. “It makes sense for us to continue development of plastic products.”
In addition to its development of new plastic products, the company also is testing its metal products with the goal to continually reduce weight and increase heat resistance. With hot-gas tests, for example, temperature fluctuations of over 1000° C can be generated using a cooling system and a gas burner. V-profile clamps that are used in the exhaust gas system are exposed to this type of stress.
Norma Group invests approximately 5% of the turnover generated by its Engineered Joining Technology business in research and development. R&D of new technologies, products and solutions, as well as modern test capacities, is a key element of the company’s strategy.
The company manufactures a wide range of innovative connecting solutions and water management technology offering more than 35,000 products to customers in 100 countries with around 6700 employees. Norma Group joining products can be found in vehicles and trains, ships and aircraft, buildings and water-management systems, as well as in applications for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.
The company had sales of approximately €895 million in 2016. Norma Group operates a global network of 28 production facilities, as well as numerous sales and distribution sites across Europe, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region. Norma Americas is an integral part of the Norma Group. It manufactures high-quality clamps, connectors and fluid systems with more than 1300 employees at nine production facilities in North and South America with annual sales of about €382 million.
Edited by Yearbook Editor Bill Koenig from information supplied by Norman Group