Aachen, 20.11.2023 (PresseBox) – A whole range of research projects enable the advancement of the the use of digital methods in plastics processing and tailor them to the industry. During the 32nd International Colloquium Plastics Technology, the IKV will provide a comprehensive insight into its capabilities in this field.

The plastics industry faces the constant challenge of having to produce ever more economically and with higher quality. Digital solutions are a valuable support on many levels for the complexity of processes and process control:

  • They accelerate operational processes such as approvals or logistics.
  • They make it possible to efficiently provide and pass on information such as production orders or statistical evaluations.
  • They provide knowledge in the form of assistance systems.
  • They help with the analysis and monitoring of complex processes.
  • -They support the development of measures for process optimisation.

However, the lack of uniform standards in interfaces and data structures hinders the efficient introduction of digital methods and tools on a broad scale. This also hinders the research, development and introduction of new, trend-setting and value-added solutions. In recent years, the IKV has positioned itself broadly in the field of digitalisation in order to meet these challenges. It researches and develops key areas for digitalisation in plastics processing, which form the basis for technical, monetary and social added value now and in the future. Three major projects in which the IKV is significantly involved provide an insight into the activities.

Plastics Innovation Center 4.0 – Fully digitalised research infrastructure

With the Plastics Innovation Center 4.0 (PIC 4.0), which went into operation this year, the IKV has created a new technical centre, which offers a modern research and development infrastructure for new approaches to digitalisation for the plastics industry (Picture 1). The funding of the three-year project by the state of NRW (North Rhine-Westphalia) with resources from the European Union as part of the ERDF-NRW funding permitted the expansion of the PIC 4.0 with a state-of-the art architectural infrastructure. The plant technology combines a wide range of established as well as advanced contemporary components, and thus enables application-oriented developments in a heterogeneous working environment (Picture 2). In addition, a completely new digital infrastructure was built. This makes it possible to link very diverse data sources with each other and to keep data, objects or logical connections available for a long time, especially beyond a programme termination (data persistence), in order to use them later for applications that are not even known today. For data processing, the PIC 4.0 can access the most modern methods, including AI-based methods.

This infrastructure is supplemented by contextual research on semantic data structuring as well as the implementation of key components for the development and programming of new digital tools. This structured system saves time-consuming data ground work for future projects and propels the efficient development of new functionalities. Therefore, not only current and future research projects benefit from the flexible infrastructure, but also application-oriented development.

Start-up out of the “Internet of Production” cluster of excellence

Closely linked to the Plastics Innovation Center 4.0 are the activities of the IKV in the DFG-funded cluster of excellence "Internet of Production", in which a consortium of more than 35 participating institutes at RWTH Aachen University are carrying out reserach into digitalisation of production processes across disciplines. The IKV has been an active partner since 2019 and represents research for plastics processing in the sub-areas of infrastructure, materials, process technology and production planning in this cluster of excellence (Picture 3).

In the area of process technology in particular, the foundations were laid here for a new approach to systematic process set-up in injection moulding and developed to the point of application. A start-up project is currently in the founding phase at the IKV, which is based on a promising AI-based modelling approach. The start-up industrif.ai is developing an assistance system to provide basic support for process engineers and plant operators in setting up new injection moulding products. It is also intended to be able to subsequently monitor production and provide recommendations for action regarding process optimisation. This will reduce the time required to set up the process operationally and optimise it as a whole. At the same time, the set-up becomes less dependent on individual decisions and the passing on of empirical wisdom, so that a high-quality process set-up is also made possible in the long run.

AI application hub plastic packaging – KIOptiPack

How can artificial intelligence (AI) help to reduce mountains of waste? How can it contribute to keeping important resources in the cycle? These are the questions addressed by the “AI application hub Plastic Packaging – Sustainable Circular Economy through Artificial Intelligence” funding programme of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The AI hub for plastic packaging is made up of the two innovation labs KIOptiPack and K3I-Cycling. They are working towards the common goal of making the plastic packaging value chain more sustainable. From design and production to closing the loop, AI methods are tested in specific use cases and put into practice.

The targeted share of recycled materials in packaging is at least 30 % in the future. A first crucial step towards a successful and industrially safe use of recyclates, is the standardisation the material qualities. This is where the KIOptiPack – Design and Production innovation laboratory comes in, with IKV as consortium leader (Picture 4). The approximately 40 project partners are pursuing the goal of providing, validating and transferring ready-to-use AI-supported tools for the successful product design and quality-compliant production of plastic packaging with a high proportion of recycled material in an AI application and data room. This will be linked to the creation of a central network platform for value chain engineering. The project and the tools developed within it cover the entire value chain from secondary raw materials, material and packaging development, process design, packaging production through to waste collection and processing, as well as consumers.

Digitalisation at the 32nd International Colloquium Plastics Technology

At the colloquium Session 2 (AI-based methods to boost PCR usage in plastics packagings), Session 5 (Multiscale simulation of multiphase materials) and Session 10 (Assistance systems in Injection Moulding) will focus on the topic of digitalisation, each with a keynote speech from industry and two scientific presentations from the IKV.

The PIC 4.0 can be experienced in action during "IKV 360° – Research live". The scientific staff will then be available on site at various stations to provide additional information.