Engineering inspired by nature

New tram vehicle body concept featuring a hexagonal load-bearing structure based on lightweight construction and an open design with large window surfaces. Photo: Panik Ebner Design
New tram vehi­cle body con­cept fea­tur­ing a hexag­o­nal load-bear­ing struc­ture based on light­weight con­struc­tion and an open design with large win­dow sur­faces.
Pho­to: Panik Ebn­er Design

There is an estab­lished tra­di­tion of young entre­pre­neurs pre­sent­ing their new busi­ness mod­els at EMO Han­nover. Cell­Core, a com­pa­ny found­ed by Andreas Krüger and two of his col­leagues at the end of 2016, is one of the exhibitors on the joint start-up stand sup­port­ed by the Fed­er­al Min­istry of Eco­nom­ics and Tech­nol­o­gy. Their busi­ness mod­el is based on bio­mimet­ic engi­neer­ing in which high­ly effi­cient nat­ur­al struc­tures, opti­mised by evo­lu­tion over mil­lions of years, are imi­tat­ed (mime­sis). The inven­tors devel­op these struc­tures tech­ni­cal­ly to enhance var­i­ous com­po­nents or prod­ucts. This can make them lighter, more sta­ble or more rigid – or all three simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. Cell­Core sup­ports SMEs from dif­fer­ent sec­tors in all aspects from idea devel­op­ment through to the pro­duc­tion of actu­al prototypes.

Bion­ics experts, engi­neers and soft­ware devel­op­ers in the Berlin-based start-up Cell­Core GmbH have joint­ly devel­oped new soft­ware that opti­mis­es tech­ni­cal struc­tures based on the inter­nal struc­ture of bones. This helps improve exist­ing com­po­nents or cre­ate entire­ly new solutions.

Trav­el­ling light into space

A good exam­ple is the injec­tion noz­zle for small satel­lite thrusters. Con­tribut­ing their soft­ware and clas­sic topol­o­gy opti­mi­sa­tion, Cell­Core employ­ees joined forces with Trumpf Laser- und Sys­temtech­nik GmbH and the Insti­tute of Space Sys­tems at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Stuttgart to design a pro­to­type on the com­put­er by cal­cu­lat­ing the opti­mum struc­tures. The soft­ware iden­ti­fied the parts which had super­flu­ous mate­r­i­al because of the low lev­els of ten­sion act­ing on them, and also cal­cu­lat­ed the parts where rein­forc­ing struc­tures are nec­es­sary. The func­tions of the noz­zle – name­ly sup­ply­ing fuel and damp­ing vibra­tions – were fac­tored in dur­ing the devel­op­ment process. Once a func­tion­al com­po­nent with opti­mum prop­er­ties had been cre­at­ed on the com­put­er, the tech­ni­cians could pro­duce the first actu­al injec­tion noz­zle using 3D print­ing. “It took just two devel­op­ment loops for us to cre­ate a com­po­nent that has since passed the required stress tests,” reports Andreas Krüger, CEO of Cell­Core. “The new noz­zle is an impres­sive 83 per cent lighter than the orig­i­nal com­po­nent.” In the com­ing months, the bio­mimet­ic injec­tion noz­zle will be deployed in space.

Boom in light­weight construction

Cell­Core also has cus­tomers in the rac­ing indus­try, as inno­v­a­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing process­es also open new pos­si­bil­i­ties for the weight opti­mi­sa­tion of indi­vid­ual com­po­nents. For exam­ple, the com­pa­ny devel­oped new wing ele­ments for the rear spoil­er of a rac­ing car for the For­mu­la Stu­dent Team at TU Berlin. At the heart of the opti­mised com­po­nent was a spe­cial hon­ey­comb struc­ture which the young entre­pre­neurs print­ed in a sin­gle piece. The result was not only a 33 per cent reduc­tion in weight, but also a 300 per cent increase in rigid­i­ty. The rac­ing car with the opti­mised rear spoil­er not only went on to achieve the best per­for­mance in the com­pe­ti­tion to date, it also won first prize in BASF’s “Best Use of Fibre Rein­forced Plas­tics” design com­pe­ti­tion. The Berlin-based com­pa­ny designed the hon­ey­comb ele­ment as a sand­wich con­struc­tion with a top lay­er of car­bon. “What sets us apart is our broad-based appli­ca­tion knowl­edge,” says Krüger, explain­ing the suc­cess of the start-up. “We have engi­neers from the aero­space, auto­mo­tive and mate­r­i­al sci­ence indus­tries, but we also have soft­ware devel­op­ment exper­tise in our team

Sup­port­ing inspi­ra­tion and creativity

CellCore has developed a bionic design for a chair base which combines force-flow-optimised contouring with functionally graded honeycomb core structures. Photo: Sedus Stoll AG
Cell­Core has devel­oped a bion­ic design for a chair base which com­bines force-flow-opti­mised con­tour­ing with func­tion­al­ly grad­ed hon­ey­comb core struc­tures.
Pho­to: Sedus Stoll AG

For Krüger, the most fas­ci­nat­ing things about his job are the vari­ety of top­ics and the free­dom to try out new things. CellCore’s experts are often called upon to help with spe­cif­ic design issues. Sedus Stoll AG – a clas­sic man­u­fac­tur­er of office chairs – want­ed new ideas for their chair bases. Up to now, cross-shaped struc­tures have been used to con­nect the seat to the legs of the chair and thus hold the seat­ed per­son. The Cell­Core engi­neers have now cal­cu­lat­ed a com­plete­ly new shape. “In con­trast to the old, cross-shaped die-cast base, they cre­at­ed a struc­ture that is rem­i­nis­cent of a pelvic bone. This allows us to use 21 per cent less mate­r­i­al,” reports the CEO. “The devel­op­ment isn’t ready for series pro­duc­tion because it isn’t yet cost-effec­tive. But devel­op­ments like the chair base high­light just what is possible.”

A con­tract with Indus­trieDesign­büro Panik Ebn­er required sim­i­lar­ly cre­ative and for­ward-look­ing input. Cell­Core was able to help val­i­date a nov­el tram con­cept thanks to its expe­ri­ence in han­dling var­i­ous struc­tures and run­ning numer­i­cal sim­u­la­tions under dif­fer­ent loads. The Panik Ebn­er con­cept reduces the weight by a sig­nif­i­cant amount while main­tain­ing the same sta­bil­i­ty. This makes the tram car eas­i­er to move, which in turn saves ener­gy. The tram is more spa­cious and offers large win­dow sur­faces for pas­sen­gers thanks to the open hon­ey­comb design. “We were able to pro­vide the nec­es­sary the­o­ret­i­cal under­pin­ning for our customer’s inno­v­a­tive con­cept with regard to mechan­i­cal strength. They can now take our sim­u­la­tion results and talk to poten­tial clients about the con­crete imple­men­ta­tion of the tram.”

No lim­its for bion­ic concepts

Cell­Core can pro­vide tech­ni­cal opti­mi­sa­tions for all indus­tries. The com­pa­ny is cur­rent­ly work­ing with med­ical experts on devel­op­ing new types of orthoses – cus­tom-made orthopaedic insoles, in par­tic­u­lar. “We want­ed to cre­ate auto­mat­ed pro­duc­tion meth­ods for insoles that are adapt­ed to indi­vid­ual patients’ needs. 3D print­ing tech­nol­o­gy can deliv­er results which are per­fect­ly matched to a par­tic­u­lar foot,” says Krüger. “The cur­rent man­u­al method of pro­duc­ing cus­tom-made orthopaedic insoles is rel­a­tive­ly cost-inten­sive, mean­ing that the high­er price of 3D print­ing is not such an issue here.”

Cell­Core is also explor­ing poten­tial areas of opti­mi­sa­tion in tool­mak­ing. With injec­tion moulds, for exam­ple, a clever arrange­ment of cool­ing chan­nels and the inte­gra­tion of spe­cial grid struc­tures can increase pro­duc­tion quan­ti­ty and qual­i­ty lev­els. New cool­ing tech­niques are also being inves­ti­gat­ed. Cell­Core is active­ly involved in research net­works such as the Nowhum S net­work for opti­mised tools.

The sky is the lim­it when it comes to imag­in­ing areas in which bio­mimet­ic engi­neer­ing can poten­tial­ly be deployed. There may still be a num­ber of draw­backs to addi­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing, espe­cial­ly with regard to the price, “…but we’re look­ing ahead and show­cas­ing both what is already pos­si­ble today and also the ways in which things could devel­op in the future.” The young Berlin entre­pre­neurs are already mak­ing use of learn­ing algo­rithms. Does Cell­Core also work with arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence? “A clear yes and no!” replies Krüger. “For my taste, the term AI is very often used in the wrong con­text and accord­ed too much impor­tance. One thing’s for sure, though: we do enjoy work­ing with nat­ur­al intelligence.”

Author: Ger­da Kneifel, VDW
Size: around 6,963 char­ac­ters includ­ing blanks

Categories: 2019, April