When flying, every gram determines the fuel consumption of the aircraft. To make air travel more climate-friendly, aircraft must become lighter. This can be achieved with components made of plastic, especially fibre composites. The start-up herone produces such. The special thing about them: They are thermoplastic fibre composite profiles with customised properties.
The founding team from left: Daniel Barfuß, Alexander Rohkamm, Dr Christian Garthaus. Copyright: herone GmbH
In an interview with K-MAG, Dr Christian Garthaus talks about the extent to which the composite profiles can be customised, what advantages this has and how the environment in particular benefits from it.
Dr Garthaus, in 2018, you founded herone as a spin-off from the Technische Universität Dresden. How did that come about?
Dr Christian Garthaus: After several years of research at the TU Dresden, my colleagues Daniel Barfuß, Alexander Rohkamm and I decided to bring our developments into commercial use independently for customers who were already interested. At that time, we had already been working for many years with well-known industrial customers who showed strong interest in industrialisation. This was the first time the idea came up. With the help of the EXIST research transfer programme of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection, high-tech start-up projects that involve complex and risky development work are funded. This programme enabled us to make the transition from research to self-employment. After six months, we then founded herone GmbH.
You offer composite profiles that are tailor-made. What does that mean exactly? How do you achieve that?
Garthaus: By customised composite profiles we mean the individual integration of additional functions directly into the component – during the manufacturing process. For example, our herone technology combined with the unique properties of thermoplastics allows us to integrate force-transmitting elements such as gears or threads made of the same matrix material directly into the composite component. This makes the component lighter and more robust and at the same time saves the number of process steps required and thus costs. By integrating standardised interfaces, such as the thread, we offer an easy way to use the components and thus to exploit the potential of the lead component.
Where exactly are your products used?
Garthaus: Our cost-efficient fibre composite profiles are used where loads, movements or liquids are transmitted and particularly high demands are placed on the material, such as pressure, temperature or force transmission. In addition to resistance, the components often have to be particularly light. This is particularly in demand in the aerospace, medical technology, sports or automotive sectors.
Currently, our team of 13 mainly aerospace engineers and lightweight constructors is working, for example, on prestressed engine compartment struts and innovative hydrogen fuel lines for emission-free flying in the future. Basically, many areas of application are conceivable for our products.
herone develops lightweight solutions for the transmission of loads, movements and fluids in various industries. Copyright: herone GmbH
To what extent do your products contribute to more sustainability in these areas?
Garthaus: Based on the automated processing of thermoplastic tapes in a braiding process and subsequent consolidation in an internal pressure-based pressing process, our herone technology can be used to produce thermoplastic composite hollow profiles in a resource-saving and cost-efficient way. These completely dispense with metals, but not with their advantages. Formerly metal connecting elements are made from the same thermoplastic base material, so that the composite components are completely recyclable. By using recyclable and recycled thermoplastic material, we are exploring new ways to close the material loop for high performance products.
In direct application, for example as a tension-compression strut in an aircraft, our products contribute to fuel and CO2 savings with weight savings. Every kilogram saved can save several tonnes of fuel over the life of the aircraft, depending on the aircraft.
What are the biggest challenges in your work? How do you meet them?
Garthaus: Anyone who wants to bring a product into series application in the aviation sector needs a lot of stamina and a stable, viable business model including well thought-out financing. As soon as the prototype developments are to be transferred to production, you need your own certified manufacturing facilities that meet aviation standards. In our case, this meant having a completely new production hall built while we worked with plant engineers to develop our special machines as a pilot line. During these processes, our entire team is confronted with new tasks and challenges every day. I think that with a good portion of courage, willingness to learn and a motivated, broad-based team, we grew into new areas together, piece by piece.
What are your next goals?
Garthaus: In the next few years, we want to get our developments "in the air to fly". In concrete terms, this means that we would like to transfer our projects into ongoing series production and produce aerospace components in large quantities. Parallel to this, we want to create the first series components outside of aviation, for example for sports and leisure, which should combine performance and sustainability.