System ALUVATION

ALUVATION: Integrated heat treatment for automotive components based on modular and mobile systems

Thanks to the more intensive use of aluminum components in current and future automobiles, heat treatment will become more and more important in manufacturing the aluminum components manufacturers need. At the same time, the importance of heat treatment as a process step is increasing, due to the growing complexity of requirements placed on components.

This is where ALUVATION Technology Center Paderborn GmbH steps in - the technology company was founded by Markus Belte in October of 2016. ALUVATION is reinterpreting integrated heat treatment by offering a full range of services for heat treating automotive components. These services include process development, equipment provision, data recording, and data processing.

System mobility and modular design

The idea behind this reinterpretation starts by rethinking the need to provide road transportation for materials. Typically, aluminum components are cast in one location, then driven to a facility for heat treatment, treated there, loaded up again, and sent for mechanical processing. This results in significant transportation expenses. In addition, interim storage is required at each location to secure the process sequence, tying up additional capital. In order to reduce these expenses, the ALUVATION system and its mobile equipment modules offer a radical solution.

With ALUVATION, either the caster or the mechanical processor can handle the “heat treatment” work step. Neither specialized heat treatment knowledge or data storage and analysis are required at either location. Both knowledge and data analysis are provided in the complete ALUVATION package. There is no need to transport goods to a classic heat treatment facility, and the expenses for this step are eliminated.

Process development

The ALUVATION Technology Center (ATC) at the Paderborn location allows us to develop customized heat treatment procedures alongside customers early on in the process. At the same time, these processes are also developed on standardized systems, so that the entire process for a component, including system technology used in production, is reliably established after the design phase is over.

The entire process, from solution annealing, quenching, and aging, to aligning and testing, is handled on the ATC systems, including the goods carrier design. Even during process development, aluminum components are used on the series production systems in the ATC in order to guarantee reproducible results. The ATC laboratory validates the results to provide direct, continuous monitoring of the start-up phase of series production.

Systems engineering

The ALUVATION system provides a mobile and standardized module system for heat treatment. It allows customers to create process-adapted production systems by combining various modules. The dimensions of the goods carriers are always the same (1,700 mm x 1,700 m x 1,700 mm), and all other dimensions can be adapted to your specific process or to the goods carrier.

The individual modules are designed and built as containers ready for road transport. This provides the best possible flexibility in deploying the systems.

The furnace system modules are designed and built by Tenova LOI Thermprocess. They work using a roller hearth, and can be used as both batch furnaces and continuous feed systems. Extremely homogeneous air circulation with specially developed air duct systems electrically heats materials.

Because the same modules and components are always used, almost any module can be combined with any other. This allows equipment power to be flexibly adapted to the current production quantity. This allows the system to be expanded in stages during the start-up phase, then disassembled again if production quantities drop.

In addition, the modules can be re-positioned in the production flow at any time, since they are not connected to any building technology services. Such re-positioning can be necessary if additional process steps are introduced or removed, requiring a different overall configuration and production process arrangement.

Multiple batch and continuous furnace modules, an AirQuench module, and a MediaQuench module are available.

Modules can be set up and ready for operations in just a few days (normal warehouse floor without specialized foundation). Thanks to previous process developments and module standardization, there is no need for a run-in phase to coordinate processes. Only the interaction between the modules and local production needs to be coordinated.

Goods carriers

The goods carriers (dimensions: 1,700 mm x 1,700 mm x 1,700 mm) can be designed as a complete unit, or they can consist of multiple carriers arranged in a stacked formation with a total height equal to the maximum possible height of the goods carrier - there are no limits to the possible component mount designs available.

Nozzles in the furnaces and the AirQuench and MediaQuench are designed so as to be equally applicable for a very broad spectrum of different geometries.

All goods carriers are labeled with a unique code identifying the goods carrier and the component-specific attachments on it. This allows operators to track and register the path of the goods carrier and its batch. The heat treatment program is designed accordingly to work with the goods carrier and its batch. If the batch on the incoming goods carrier does not match the currently set process, the system can reject acceptance of the non-matching goods carrier.

Digital transformation and networking

The innovative approach of the ALUVATION system encompasses a full range of process development, process controlling, equipment design, equipment provision, and equipment monitoring. Relayr GmbH, Munich, is a participating cooperative partner and has developed a specialized system to monitor the equipment. It allows for custom, forward-thinking equipment maintenance and ensures integrated data storage. Relayr data modules can be used on every system. They ensure that deviations from standard and current actual data from equipment installed worldwide can be centrally recorded and analyzed.

Equipment is monitored centrally, directly from the ALUVATION Technology Center (ATC) in Paderborn. The required process documentation is generated, then prepared and digitally delivered from there to the requesting offices. Process adaptations that are necessary or desirable during the production phase can be implemented simultaneously for all matching components thanks to centralized data and receipt storage, even on short notice. Changes can even be implemented if heat treatment is being carried out at ALUVATION modules in different locations across the world.

Mobile heat treatment

ALUVATION offers custom-tailored solutions for heat treatment for all aluminum components based on its mobile heat treatment equipment. Central equipment and process monitoring means no infrastructure is required to document processes at the setup and operating location. All data can be collected centrally and processed to prepare batch protocols, then delivered to the customer.

Thanks to the integrated modular construction of the equipment, both pre-series product runs and work at peak production times can be transferred to other equipment or handled at preliminary setup locations while still complying with process requirements.

As soon as production figures for a customer’s contract require a separate production system, for instance, it can be set up directly beside the foundry. Heat treatment can be handled on site without additional preparatory steps and specific development of the heat treatment process.

Centralized data recording and modules with identical construction means heat treatment can be handled in any geographical location where components are found during the production process. Heat treatment can be completed in the foundry or in mechanical processing, since the goods carriers always ensure the equipment maintains the same process parameters. Cost-intensive and time-consuming test runs are a thing of the past.

Conclusion

The standardized modules of the mobile, integrated heat treatment equipment means the ALUVATION system can develop processes through to readiness for series production without having constructed the final production system. Typical development cycles are shortened significantly. Equipment can be set up in the same configuration at different locations, but will always deliver the same heat treatment results.

While maintaining the same reliability and quality offered by traditional production systems, the mobile heat treatment system allows users to reduce transportation distances and costs, saving resources.

Integrated digital monitoring, central data analysis, and central generation of batch reports mean the design also helps operators take the next step towards Industry 4.0.

Transparent cost calculations and the capital-saving concept of renting module containers to customers - along with the flexibility the equipment offers - point towards a new future of dynamic heat treatment with ALUVATION.

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