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From space antennas to medical stents – today’s research at ifm

The small town of Münchberg is home to two research institutes on the campus of Hof University of Applied Sciences that have made a name for themselves in the field of textiles among companies in the aerospace, automotive, construction and environmental technology industries: the Institute of Materials Science (ifm ) and the Fraunhofer Application Center for Textile Fiber Ceramics (TFK). With the inauguration of the Technical Center for Textile Technology and Air Conditioning in Weberstraße in 2020, the location continued to develop steadily towards a national and international center of competence in the field of textiles. The approx. 1,000 m² technical center hall was built in an area in accordance with the guidelines for processing carbon and ceramic yarns. It is equipped with the latest textile technology equipment for the production of 3D fabrics, among other things. In the other premises of the university, there is also a weaving, braiding, nonwovens and knitting pilot plant on an area of over 5500 m², as well as laboratories for chemical finishing and testing.

The technical center for textile technology and air conditioning; Image: Hof University of Applied Sciences;

Thus, since the founding of the “Königlich Höhere Webschule” 125 years ago, the Münchberg campus has undergone rapid and promising development, and not only in the field of teaching. Above all, the textile research based there never ceases to amaze. One more reason for the campuls editorial team to talk about the research focus and current projects in Münchberg in the 2nd part of our anniversary series “125 Years Royal Secondary Weaving School Münchberg” together with Prof. Dr. Frank Ficker, head of the ifm as well as head of the Fraunhofer Application Center for Textile Fibre Ceramics (TFK) and professor for technologies of textile production, especially weaving techniques.

Prof. Ficker, what are the main areas of research at ifm in Münchberg?

“At ifm we focus on the development of modern functional materials. Because of their special mechanical, chemical, electrical or optical properties, these high-tech materials have become indispensable. Scarcer resources and increasing ecological demands on the production and recyclability of materials require the development of intelligent materials and material systems that reduce energy consumption and additionally grant improved functionalities. Recycling of textiles and composites is also an increasingly important aspect.”

What specifically are you currently researching at ifm?

“The ifm develops new products and manufacturing processes in the fields of mechanical engineering, system materials, textile technology and composites. Our institute is characterized by its high competence and technical equipment and is, among other things, the technology leader for the production of branched braids.ifm sees itself as a partner for application-oriented research and development projects in industry and business. Nationally and internationally we cooperate with companies from the aerospace, automotive, construction, medical and environmental industries. Projects range from processes for manufacturing space antennas to natural antibacterial coatings and braided medical stents. In a region dominated by the textile industry, ifm advances local companies by directly transferring the latest technologies into production.”

Prof. Dr. Frank Ficker, head of the Institute for Material Sciences
at Hof University of Applied Sciences (ifm) in Münchberg; Image: Hof University of Applied Sciences;

From space to medicine – what a range. Please tell us more about the project on medical stents. As a layman, what can you imagine by that?

“For several years now, ifm has been researching the development of vascular prostheses for medical technology, in particular for coronary, i.e. heart, use. The two main advantages of braided stents are better flexibility and mobility during implantation, as well as the branched structure, which allows vascular branches to be treated with a single stent, instead of two vascular prostheses, as has been used in the past. At the university campus in Münchberg, the novel stents will be machine-braided for the first time from suitable medical materials in their insertion size of 3 to 8 mm diameter. Our two projects “GeVeS – Braided branched structures for use in medical technology and pipe rehabilitation” and “KISS – Knospendes Implantierverfahren für Stentstrukturen” were funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. We already have two patent rights to medical stents for constricted vessels, which consist of braided structures, and a corresponding implantation process. Now, together with partners, we want to bring the inventions to market maturity.”

Medical stents as vascular prostheses – braided at the Münchberg campus;
image: Hof University of Applied Sciences;

In another project that started at the beginning of the year, you are working on developing a process for recycling the fiber raw materials of laminated textiles. What exactly are you researching in the project?

“The aim of the project is to develop an innovative process to recycle textile composites, such as upholstery materials in car seats. The first step is to separate the individual materials and, if they are sufficiently pure, to produce yarns from the thermoplastic PES components that are colored or can be dyed, which, in addition to the material separation, represents a significant further innovation to the generally “uniform gray” of the recycled colored fiber materials that has been feasible up to now. The residual materials from production and making-up are to be shredded in mechanical processes, separated and then regranulated. The recovered polyesters are to be returned to the upholstery fabric manufacturing process, thus closing the materials loop.”

Let us now take a closer look at one of your other research focuses: nonwovens technology. What is ifm currently researching in the field of nonwovens technology and what is the core task of the Nonwovens Development Center (VEZ) in Münchberg?

“Today we find nonwovens in almost all areas of daily life, for example clothing, construction, automotive, sports, agriculture and forestry, military, chemicals and packaging. I would like to single out disposable masks as an example, which were not sufficiently available at the beginning of the Corona pandemic in 2020. However, German and European industry has shown that it is capable of closing such supply gaps quickly and flexibly. Unfortunately, in some cases the experience gained with regard to supply security was forgotten again after only a few months and only the price was decisive.”

A view of the modern machine hall in Münchberg; Image: Hof University of Applied Sciences;

How can companies benefit from the know-how and research at ifm as well as the possibilities of the VEZ?

“First of all, in the field of nonwovens we have excellently equipped laboratories and a young, motivated team that is increasingly gaining experience. In addition, we have found someone in Prof. Dr. Claus-Ekkehard Koukal who, thanks also to the endowed professorship financed by the Sandler company, can look after the area intensively.

Then, of course, there is also the extremely innovative environment of the entire ifm, as well as the other institutes and the Hof University of Applied Sciences as a whole, so that we can offer cooperating companies an excellent overall package of research and development, training (for example, also dual studies) and further education.”

Thank you very much for the interview.

At a glance – What is being worked on and researched at ifm in the field of textiles?

  • Innovative textiles
  • Nonwoven technology
  • Surface functionalization
  • Textile finishing and dyeing
  • Mesh technology
  • Injection molding and functionally integrated components
  • State Testing Office for the Textile Industry (Textile Testing Center)
Kirsten Hölzel

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