Magnesium as a Lightweight Material Magnesium Components: "A Niche in the Niche"
TWI GmbH from Dortmund wants to establish magnesium as a material in the automotive industry. In his presentation at the Lightweight Construction Summit, Ralf Anderseck describes the applications that are already possible today and emphasizes that the biggest hurdles to their use are not in the field of technology.
The focus of lightweight materials is on aluminium and carbon fiber-reinforced plastics — the steel industry is also continuously optimizing its products. In the car industry, these materials have the advantage that they are not only established but also affordable, depending on the area of application. TWI, a Dortmund-based company founded in 2015, is also aiming to establish magnesium as a lightweight material in the automotive industry. Managing Director Ralf Anderseck and his colleagues, in addition to his employees at nine companies and institutes altogether, want to develop competitive processes and magnesium components. “It is important to us that all processes are affordable for the automotive industry, but also for all other industries," says Anderseck, describing his primary goal. Another milestone is the lowest possible CO2 footprint — TWI intends to supply nearly CO2-neutral components in the long term.
Market Volume is Negligible
At the beginning of his presentation, Anderseck's comment on the distribution of magnesium to date shows that there is still a long way to go: according to his data, the market volume of magnesium was one million tons in 2016. Compared with steel (around 1,600 million tons) and aluminium (around 55 million tons), this volume is negligible. By 2020, the annual production of magnesium is expected to double. By this date, TWI expects the global sales volume for its products to amount to around 400,000 tons. "A niche in the alcove," as Anderseck puts it. It clearly limits the areas of application, i.e. it is a matter of supplying specific components to the automotive industry and not of manufacturing large parts of a vehicle from magnesium.
Over the past two years, TWI has been working intensely on the technological basis. “We have set ourselves the goal of developing the entire process chain," says Anderseck, describing his vision. Sheets produced in the extrusion process are directly transformed into products. The still warm material can be processed better and without the need for work hardening. Another even more important issue is the incipient corrosion when magnesium is contaminated with steel or aluminium. To prevent this, special or at least adapted machines are needed. That is why the company does not want to sell semi-finished products, emphasizes Anderseck.
In order to be able to cover the entire processing chain, TWI is currently building a "Technical Center" with an annual capacity of around 1,000 tons. However, Anderseck, who holds a degree in engineering, had to pay more attention to the financing of his projects than he would have liked. His conclusion is that "the banks are retiring financing the innovations of SMEs". He had to raise funds via the American capital market because German venture capitalists were also not interested in his long-term project. "As an engineer, I would have preferred to develop solutions. But in Germany, however, the problems with financing are much greater than the technical ones". He sees major threats to the innovation culture in SMEs because of this.
This article was first published by Automobil Industrie.