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Montanuniversität Leoben (MUL) in Austria is well-known for performing high-quality research in a wide range of technological areas like Mining, Materials Science and Polymer Technology. Services provided by Montanuniversitaet Leoben include basic and applied R&D for SMEs, for industry as well as for public institutions. Additionally, Montanuniversitaet Leoben participates in establishing national competence centres, research studies and takes part in a high number of national, European and international research projects.
The Department of Polymer Processing and Science and the Industrial Liaison Department of MUL have been in charge of basic and applied R&D, industrial liaison, education and technology transfer. Areas of expertise are: binders and processes for powder technologies especially PIM; different processing technologies of plastics mainly injection moulding, extrusion and compounding; measurement of rheological, thermal and tribological properties of polymers and feedstocks; and compounding of polymers (special know how exists in the area of highly filled polymers).
Within REProMag, MUL and its departments brought experience in development and characterisation of feedstock and contributed to several RTD activities: development of Additive Manufacturing (AM) and Metal Injection Moulding (MIM) binder system/ feedstocks for Rare Earth (RE) magnets; development of initial processing parameters for AM and MIM of RE magnets; and support of the environmental impact assessment of industrial validated demonstrators.

Here is our interview with Dr. Christian Kukla for the 3rd REProMag Newsletter:

Dr. Kukla, how did you come to hear about the project REProMag?

Mr. Burkhardt from OBE has informed himself on activities in the area of Metal Injection Moulding (MIM) of magnets at the EuroPM 2011 in Barcelona. There he met Mr. Gierl-Mayer from TU Vienna. As I had myself contacts to Mr. Gierl-Mayer and also to Fotec, I was involved in the following process of preparing a European proposal for the manufacturing of magnets by MIM and later also Additive Manufacturing (AM).

Could you describe your role in the project – both as MUL and you?

MUL, especially the Chair for Polymer Processing, has a long experience in compounding and characterising of filled polymers. As senior researcher and scientific team leader at MUL, I have more than 20 years of expertise in Powder Injection Moulding (PIM) and thus also in feedstocks, as well as in MIM, technical consulting for customers of my former employer Battenfeld, binders for feedstock and related research. Therefore, our task in REProMag is the development and characterisation of feedstocks mainly for AM / Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) and for test purposes also for MIM.

What convinced you to get involved in REProMag, which benefits do you see for MUL and yourself?

Since feedstocks and especially binders are in the focus of my interest, REProMag fits very well. A special point of interest is the transfer of feedstock design for MIM to the design of feedstocks for AM (FFF Fused Filament Fabrication). Also the use of Neodymium Iron Boron (NdFeB) offers a challenging topic for research.
For MUL in REProMag as also in other European projects, a general advantage is the participation in international networks and the related generation of international awareness. Another advantage of such a project is the generation of further knowhow within the own expertise.

Half of the project duration has been achieved in June this year. Are the results matching with your midterm objectives, so far? What would you do differently if you could start again at day one of the project?

In general the expectations in REProMag and the related achievements are fulfilled from my side. More work than expected was in the handling of NdFeB. We were aware that a special treatment is necessary but underestimated the effort related to it. Nevertheless, the results are promising enough for us to reach our goals within REProMag. In further topics like FFF we will reach even much more and better results than expected.

You were exhibiting with other project partners on World PM2016, the Powder Metallurgy World Congress and Exhibition on 9 - 13 October in Hamburg, Germany. What is your feeling: Did the project receive good resonance, how was the audience?

Both presentations by Mr. Burkhardt and me were well attended and led to much interest and maybe further projects in the future. Since it was a worldwide conference, we found that we are at the forefront of the research and also practical use of FFF for the production of metal parts.
Yes, recycling is a very important aspect within the project. We do not possess a functioning rare earth mine in Europe, so a recycled source could provide a sustainable supply not only to this project but the EU as whole which would shield us from further price volatility.

As for today, would you like to be involved in further projects following on from REProMag? Would you recommend the participation in European projects to further universities and research bodies?

There is a strong ‘Yes’ as an answer to both questions. Within REProMag we have a very good consortium with a good interaction between each other. To be part of further similar co-operations is a promising idea.
One main drawback in projects like REProMag is that the likelihood to get such a project is (much) less than 10%. Thus the effort for writing proposals increases a lot, because writing a good proposal is already a lot of effort and having to do this several times to be successful generates an increasing obstacle to go for such projects.
Despite such considerations I’m optimistic on the chance for further projects at least according to the first feedback we got on our presentations.

Dr. Christian Kukla is doing research and technology & knowledge transfer at Montanuniversität Leoben, where he is also engaged in many national and international projects dealing with compounds, plastics processing especially Powder Injection Moulding (feedstock development and rheology of highly filled polymers), Additive Manufacturing and the development of sensors/actuators for the production process. He is a member of the European Powder Metallurgy Association (EPMA) and the MIM Expertenkreis.

Dr. Joamin Gonzalez-Gutierrez has a doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Before working as a postdoctoral researcher at MUL, he was a research assistant at the University of Ljubljana. He has been at MUL since 2015. Fields of expertise include development and characterisation of highly-filled polymers for injection moulding and additive manufacturing, as well as rheology of complex materials.

Stephan Schuschnigg has a master in Polymer Engineering and Science from the Montanuniversitaet Leoben. As a PhD-student he is dealing with the solid conveying zone from single extruders. Since 2009 he is senior scientist and group leader for extrusion and additive manufacturing. His main expertise is extrusion, compounding and additive manufacturing with fused filament fabrication of thermoplastic materials.