A revolution with small honeycombs is coming from Germany

A small revolution is coming off the production line

Here, the company THERMHEX WABEN GmbH is producing a unique and above all continuous production step of plastic honeycomb cores for light-weight panels and components. Until now, the manufacture of these honeycomb units required diverse individual steps which made the products more expensive. Each layer of the honeycomb had to be manufactured individually and subsequently joined together to form panels. At THERMHEX WABEN GmbH, all of this can be done in a single step.

"So far, these honeycomb cores were relatively expensive, complex and had to be produced in a lot of individual steps. They could not meet the combination of cost and weight saving that so many customers require today" explains Jochen Pflug, business manager of THERMHEX WABEN GmbH. The internationally patented ThermHex process involves extruding a roll of polypropylene foil and continually thermally reshaping it with a vacuum roller. Afterwards this roll is immediately unrolled. This process allows the production of honeycomb cores 3 to 30 mm thick, with individual lengths of up to 6 metres and at speeds of up to 10 metres per minute.

THERMHEX WABEN GmbH's customers each process the honeycomb cores into sandwich panels according to application and requirements with corresponding surfaces. From aluminium or steel to wood, acrylic, textiles to carbon fibre – a special non-woven fabric surface of the honeycomb core makes sure that all cover layers hold together perfectly. The application possibilities are broadly based: panels for lorries and busses, walls for pre-fabricated bathrooms, bodies for lorry trailers, the most diverse fibre compound components as well interior and structure components for vehicles or yachts. Even components with complex shapes such as nacelle covers for wind turbines are possible.

Due to the very thin THERMEX honeycomb cores of only 3.5 mm, even thin fibre composite panels and components can be replaced through sandwich panels. This allows a weight reduction of up to 50 percent compared to homogenous conventional fibre composite panels of the same rigidity and flexibility. Through the automated production, the quality control could also be automated and completely guaranteed.

"We have managed to unify maximum cost savings, maximum weight reduction at a minimal amount of material usage in one product and one continuous production line", says Jochen Pflug. Since his studies, the aerospace engineer has been working with honeycomb cores. In addition to this, he has been the business manager of the Belgian company ECONCORE that works exclusively in the research and development of light-weight construction. THERMHEX WABEN GmbH is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Belgian company.

Because fibre composites and light-weight construction are key technologies in Saxony-Anhalt, the federal state promoted the business set-up at the Halle site with 50 percent of the 1.4 million Euro investment amount. The second production facility should soon spring up on around 4,000 square metres and the number of staff members double from 10 to 20.

And something else also makes THERMHEX honeycomb stand out: The strong focus on the economic use of resources. All of the remains left by the production are immediately and completely fed back into the production cycle. The polypropylene raw materials are sourced from the nearby Leuna chemical site to minimise logistic expenses.

In 2014, THERMEX WABEN GmbH was awarded with the Hugo-Junkers prize by the state of Saxony-Anhalt for the development of the automated production of light, robust and comparatively inexpensive honeycomb cores. Hugo Junkers himself developed and patented the sandwich construction with honeycomb cores for his aeroplanes.

That the business decided to settle in Halle on the Saale in Saxony-Anhalt is no coincidence. In 1901 the paper goods factory HEILBRUN & PINNER developed the patented process for expanding paper combs. And so the idea, that at the time was only thought of for paper goods, returns to its place of birth. It has only been developed further for the requirements of modern light-weight construction.

There is another reason in favour of this region. Apart from its excellent funding perspectives, Saxony-Anhalt offers the best pre-requisites for companies that work with the production and processing of plastics. The federal state in central Germany has turned itself into a world-leading centre of excellence in the production and processing of polymers. As one of Europe's most important chemical centres, the federal state readily offers raw materials as well as efficient value-added chains, a qualified work-force and a specialised industry-oriented landscape for research and development.

Jochen Pflug
Managing Director
Merseburger Str. 237
D-06130 Halle (Saale), Germany
Tel: +49 (0) 345/131627-0
E-Mail: jochen.pflug@econcore.com
Web: thermhex.de