After a heavy previous day, we got up and got ready for our last company visit, SGL Carbon. We hopped on the bus and rode quickly there, anxiously awaiting it as it seemed like a very interesting company, and it being our last visit meant that everyone would be able to really get ready for their presentations on Wednesday.
We eventually arrived and my first impression of the facility was strong because of how modern and well taken care of everything looked. We walked into the building and right in the lobby there were several different carbon fiber products that were molded from SGL’s carbon fiber. The only thing that I couldn’t get a photo of and was one of the coolest things that I was able to see was a canoe that was made entirely of carbon fiber, complete with an ultralight paddle.
After we were able to explore the different parts for a long time, we were called up to the conference room, which was one of the most impressive I have ever seen. The two walls on either side of the presentation platform were completely glass, and it was beautiful. It being a beautiful day out probably helped that opinion some, but I still think I would have been really impressed even if it was cloudy and raining outside.
Once we all were settled down and had some waters and some juices, we were given a presentation by Dr. Tilo Hauke, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate school. It was extremely informative, and he went through the different production processes that are undertaken at SGL, as well as what the different capabilities and pros and cons of carbon fiber are. Carbon fiber can be just as strong as steel and aluminum with a fraction of the weight, but it costs a lot more because of the meticulousness with which it is manufactured.
Following his presentation, we were able to ask questions, and one of mine was about SGL’s relationship with BMW. During his talk, he mentioned that the only other company with similar carbon fiber capabilities to SGL was BMW, and I knew that BMW was one of SGL’s largest customers, so I was wondering why BMW still outsourced their carbon fiber production to SGL. I found his response especially interesting because he told me that BMW and SGL had worked together to develop the carbon fiber production techniques that are currently in use, and that the research they completed together benefited both companies because now BMW was able to go to SGL for high quality carbon, and SGL was able to supply BMW with it.
After Q&A, we went on our factory tour. We started in their research and development facility, where they were able to experiment with different types of fibers and different methods of production with them. To do this, they used an enormous system that filled up a giant warehouse. This machine took in one continuous reel of white fibers, and throughout different stages within the system, heated the fibers within ovens, and the fibers came out the other side looking like what you traditionally think carbon fiber would look like (black fibers). One of the reasons that carbon fiber is so expensive is because of this production process. The cost of the raw material isn’t inexpensive, but the bulk of the costs lie in the production itself. A huge amount of machinery investment and energy is required to make a small amount of carbon fiber.
Once we were done viewing the material production process, we moved on to the production of actual test components. This was still within the research and development facility, so the materials and pieces made here were never actually put in to use anywhere, only the new processes that were discovered while making the material and components. At the test component production, there was another oven that allowed carbon materials to be molded into a certain shape. With what they were currently testing, they could make just about any cross-sectional shape that they wanted to, but that cross section needed to be the same throughout the length of the part.
Immediately next to this oven was a stress tester that allowed the engineers to see immediate results from their varying production processes that they were testing. This consisted of essentially a hydraulic press to apply a force to the part being tested, and a large metal cage surrounding it because once the stress test was finished the carbon materials (which do not bend and are instead very brittle) would snap and explode. Unfortunately, we did not get to see that machine in action.
We next went on to a machine that laid out just about any desired shaped in carbon fiber so long as it could fit in a two-by-two meter square. While we were there, they had a printout of what would eventually become the back support to the rear seats of a car. You could see the cutouts for the two main back seats, as well as the pass through cutout where you can traditionally put skis or anything too long to put in the back of a trunk through. What was interesting about this was its similarities to additive manufacturing (3D printing), because the machine would overlay fibers in only the places that it was necessary, meaning that there was very little waste in the process. If you were to make the same part out of metal, you would have waste from stamping out the shape of the seats and from stamping out the pass through.
The last thing we were able to see was the radial carbon braiding machine, which allowed SGL to make components that would be woven in a hollow circle of some sort, like a pipe. This was an amazing machine to be able to see simply because of its intricacy. So many things needed to be working perfectly at the same time for the process to work, and that seemed like a nearly impossible task to me.
Once the tour was over, we headed back to the conference room for lunch. The lunch we were given was catered and it was amazing. It was a meat dumpling, with rice and grilled vegetables on the side. It was by far the best lunch at any of the company visits prior, and one of the best of the trip (for me at least). We finished the meal with a local jelly/custard dessert, and that just added to the whole greatness of the meal. While we ate, I was able to talk with an engineer at there, about some of the things that he was working on at SGL. He couldn’t talk about too many of the details, but they were essentially working on a new carbon fiber molding process that seemed really interesting because traditionally, you can’t mold braided carbon fiber.
After lunch, we rode the bus back to the hotel, where we all split up to work on our presentations with our groups. My group went back to the University of Augsburg to work on the presentation, and there we met with the German students that we were working with, and continued to get some of the presentation done. Once we thought we had a pretty good handle of what was going on and what we needed to do, we went back to the hotel. On the way back, we stopped by Starbucks for a snack, where we worked a little more on the presentation and finished up some of our blogs.
Takeaway of the day: Working across cultures.
My group has had the pleasure of working with Maren, Sophie, and Luisa for this presentation. They are all global business majors at the University of Augsburg, and they have all been really great to work with. This is not what I expected the experience to be. There has been almost no language barrier because all of their English is fantastic, and our cultures are very similar. I am interested to know what it would be like if everyone wasn’t so easy to work with, but I am glad that I will never have to experience it.
Car of the day: Audi RS6 Avant
I know I have already featured an RS6 Avant as Car of the Day before, but this one in all black with silver accents really caught my eye. It is an awesome car, and I would make it my goal to own one eventually if it was sold in the United States.
Runner up: AMG GT
I wasn’t crazy about this color, but the car itself is awesome. The AMG GT produces 577 horsepower from a twin-turbo V8, propelling it from 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds, nearly the same stats as the RS6.