Researchers at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Applied Materials Research (IFAM) have devised a breakthrough solution that combines low-weight and cost effectiveness of plastics with electrical conductivity and resilience of metals. The new process developed by Bremen-based IFAM does not require any new machinery to process the components.
The new solution consists of a composite material where different materials are not merely slotted together or bonded, but mixed in a special process to form a single material. This process produces a homogeneous and fine-meshed electrically conductive network which possesses the desired chemical stability and low weight, coupled with the electrical and thermal conductivity of metals. The components will soon be able to be produced in a single work step without a need to integrate metal circuit boards thereby reducing production costs.
The beneficiaries of this new process will include automobile and aircraft manufacturers. The headlamp housings on a car, for example, are made of plastic. Until now, punched metal sheets have been installed in order to illuminate the headlamps. If the housings were fitted with circuit boards made of the conductive plastic-metal hybrids, they could be produced more efficiently and at lower cost than ever before. A plastic-metal hybrid would also be an effective alternative for discharge structures on aircraft components include fuselage which are largely made of carbon fiber composites.