Core competence "polymer engineering"

In the field of polymer engineering, we conduct application-oriented research focusing on the development of materials, processes and components for plastic products. Material recycling, and sustainability concepts for complete value chains, are currently important drivers in this market.

To achieve these aims we research new processes in polymer and additive synthesis, develop applicationoriented sustainable materials and formulations for specific products, and optimize processing technologies adapted to these materials. Areas of application include the automotive and construction industries.

Areas of expertise

Polymer synthesis

Our work in polymer and additive synthesis includes the production of classic polymers such as polyurethanes, polyesters, their additives and auxiliary substances such as plasticizers, viscosity improvers, compatibilizers and halogen-free flame-retardant additives. Sustainability considerations play an important role. Thus, the use of sugar-based polyhydroxy compounds, but also polyphenolic tannins or lignins for the synthesis of polymeric precursors augments polymer syntheses in the field of biopolymers. Continuous polymerization and polymer modification by reactive extrusion, using the example of thermoplastic urethanes (TPUs), are very well established topics at our institute.

Material and formulation development

Our focus in material and formulation development is on formulations based on classic thermoplastics and bio-based natural-fiber-reinforced polyesters for application in higherstrength components. We also emphasize emission-optimized and chemically purified recyclates and their monomers, as a very broad range of applications can be covered by reformulation. Our newly developed functional compounds have found an interesting field of application in 3D printing. We also develop formulations for thermoset systems suitable for injection molding or the SMC process.

Processing technologies

We draw intensively on our many years of experience in process development on twin-screw extruders in the design of new processes for reactive extrusion, and in the removal of impurities by extractive extrusion. We have continuous process chains both in particle foam technology and in the manufacturing of foamed semi-finished products in the direct foam process. Our research emphasizes the new development and optimization of conventional, bio-based, recycled and foamed engineering thermoplastics and their processing methods. Examples include the development of particle foams using autoclave processes, and the processing of particle foams using radio frequency technology.

We have built up extensive process know-how in the injection molding of thermoplastic and thermoset molding compounds, e.g. for inline technologies to incorporate fillers and fibers into flowable thermoplastic and thermoset molding compounds, and for the development of processes for thermoplastic monomaterial sandwich systems. Our microwave and plasma technology is used to develop energy-efficient and flexible process technologies.

Component development and service life analyses

We are continually expanding our expertise in component design and component and process simulation, and increasingly applying this knowledge in our projects. We also have significant expertise in the simulation and evaluation of environmental influences on materials, components and assemblies on the market or under development. Complex products, shorter innovation cycles and extended product liability issues require adapted and expanded testing procedures. The focus of our work in this area is on component testing during development, under climatic conditions and also on exposure to dust and vibration, in order to investigate mechanisms of aging, corrosion, material fatigue and reliability during the component‘s service life. Lightweight construction and composites Our expertise in the field of lightweight construction and composites lies in material development and material modification, as well as in the further development and industrialization of processes such as RTM, extrusion, pultrusion, tape and winding technologies. We use these processes to manufacture structurally highly stressed components, or components with multiple integrated functions.

Recycling and sustainability concepts

In the area of recycling and sustainability concepts we develop processes and technologies for material recycling. One key topic is concepts for mechanical and chemical recycling. To achieve this it is important to consider the recyclability of materials during component development to allow recycling after the service life of the component.

Facilities and equipment

  • Twin-screw extruders with 18 to 32 mm screw diameter
  • Dosing systems for liquid and highly viscous media and gravimetric dosing systems for pellets, powder, fibers etc.
  • Laboratory for reactive extrusion, equipped with safety devices for work with hazardous substances
  • Parallel-running hydraulic compression molding machines for the processing of plastics with 6,300 and 36,000 kN clamping force
  • Injection molding units with clamping forces between 350 and 7,000 kN
  • Special injection molding processes in injection compression molding, multi-component injection molding, thermoplastic foam molding, expansion foaming, thermoset injection molding
  • Automated thermoplastic tape-laying process for non-wovens with a diameter of 2 m
  • Plant for radiation-induced vacuum consolidation for thermoplastic non-wovens
  • Automated winding technology to produce complex loop structures
  • 3D printing technologies for processing functionalized polymers
  • Particle foam technology with twin-screw extruder, underwater pelletizing, prefoamer and a (radio frequency) molding machine
  • Tandem foam extrusion plant for foamed semi-finished products
  • SMC production line with advanced sensor technology and BMC kneader
  • Polyurethane processing PU-RIM and PU fiber spraying technology
  • Polymer synthesis autoclaves on a 5-kilogram scale
  • RIM/RTM technologies for processing thermoset and thermoplastic materials
  • Pultrusion technology with injection technology for thermoset and thermoplastic matrix systems
  • Microwave equipment with generators for a wide range of applications
  • Microwave-based sensor technology for process monitoring
  • Various low-pressure plasma systems
  • Robot-assisted atmospheric plasma unit
  • Extensive, cutting-edge equipment in the field of materials testing and analysis

Sustainable and intelligent solutions for plastics applications

Our research in polymer engineering focuses on the manufacturing and recycling of plastic components, from synthesis and processing through to component manufacture. Our research is accompanied by an evaluation of the raw material base and raw material efficiency, simulation of environmental impacts in the use phase, and product recycling including life cycle analysis (LCA).

Polymer synthesis forms the basis for our further development of classic polymers such as polyurethanes, polyesters and polyamides, with the aim of improving their functionalities, performance and application range. Our developments aim for sustainability, for example plastics based on bio-based raw materials or the full recycling of used plastics. The same applies to additive synthesis with halogen-free flame retardants, sustainable plasticizer systems or compatibilizers for new plastic compounds. Our polymer developments, for example, aim to combine thermoplastic and thermoset functionalities for application in highly resilient bonds.

The research group for material development and compounding technologies specializes in the development of new compounding processes and material formulations. Particularly important topics include extractive compounding processes to reduce emissions, the removal of impurities to facilitate recycling, and innovative reactive extrusion for polymer synthesis or polymer modification in twin-screw extruders.

Key tasks in the field of foam technologies are the development and use of particle foam technology and the manufacture of foamed semi-finished products in the direct foam process. Besides the optimization of conventional materials we are concerned with the foaming of biobased and technical polymers that are more resistant to increased temperatures. New sintering technologies, such as radio frequency technology, are opening up completely new areas of application.

In the field of additive manufacturing, we are researching the development of customized material formulations, for example by incorporating reinforcing fibers and functional additives into the polymer. On the process side, we are exploring the improvement of the mechanical properties of additively manufactured components by directly integrating continuous fibers oriented along the load paths.

The research group for injection and compression molding focuses on standard and specialized processes for (fiber composite) materials. The integration of local, load-path-compatible wound or tape-laid fiber composite structures into injection molded components significantly improves the mechanical properties.

The industrialization of process chains for the production of highly resilient, continuous-fiber-reinforced lightweight structures is our main research topic in the area of structural composites. The core technologies involved are resin transfer molding, wet compression molding, thermoplastic tape laying and pultrusion. The placement of textile and pre-impregnated semi-finished products to produce preforms, and their handling, combination with polymer foams and metallic structures and subsequent resin infusion or shaping, are important steps within the processing chains.

In the field of microwave and plasma technology we develop customized equipment, measurement technology and methods for thermal processing and coating. Applications include microwave-based heating of polymers, accelerated curing of adhesives and resin systems, microwave-assisted chemical reaction technology and the coating or modification of surfaces in the plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition process. A particular focus is on corrosion-resistant layers and nanoporous adhesive layers.

Our research group for material characterization and failure analysis carries out comprehensive investigations into polymer materials along the entire processing chain, from the raw material through to the component. In the event of damage or failure, we offer systematic analysis of the causes, the material failure and the influences that led to it, using analytical and technological measurement methods.

In the field of online process monitoring we develop spectral and microwave-based measurement methods for plant-integrated process and material monitoring, and for process control. Our projects in the context of Industry 4.0 are based on the process integration of sensors. This also includes processspecific know-how in raw data evaluation. The application and integration of big data and AI algorithms enable learning or immature processes to be investigated.

In the area of recycling and waste management we develop processes and technologies for the material recycling of polymers, aiming for their complete reintroduction into high-quality applications. In the case of thermoset polymer systems this involves chemical, solvolytic cleavage into components that can be very specifically repolymerized to form this type of material. As an example, aircraft seats containing polyurethane foam were processed, the separated polyurethane was depolymerized and, after purification of the resulting decomposition products, a targeted synthesis of new seat foams with intrinsic flame retardancy was carried out. An accompanying life-cycle assessment (LCA) quantified the sustainability of these systems according to various impact categories. Further recycling applications can be found in the area of PET and PLA recycling at Fraunhofer ICT. Both classes of polyester can be depolymerized to their monomers via chemical and catalytic processes, purified and then recycled back to the original polymers. These processes were also evaluated in terms of their sustainability via a life-cycle analysis. Recent work relates to process development for the recycling of silicone materials.

In the synthesis of sustainable polymers, bio-based systems have always played an important role at Fraunhofer ICT, for example thermosetting, lignin-based epoxies for surface finishes or odor barrier layers to prevent evaporation.

Karlsruhe Research Factory for AI-Integrated Production

The Karlsruher Forschungsfabrik® (Karlsruhe Research Factory) is an initiative of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft with its institutes ICT and IOSB as well as the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT-wbk) on the East Campus of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

At this site we conduct practice-oriented research on real manufacturing processes so that producers and machine and plant manufacturers can bring new products to the market in the shortest possible time. To achieve this we fully exploit the potential of comprehensive digitalization, and reliably implement artificial intelligence and machine learning methods into operational practice.


Jan Diemert

Contact Press / Media

Dr.-Ing. Jan Diemert

Spokesman of the core competence

Fraunhofer-Institut für Chemische Technologie ICT
Joseph-von-Fraunhofer-Straße 7
76327 Pfinztal

Phone +49 721 4640-433

Fax +49 721 4640-730

Torsten Müller

Contact Press / Media

Dipl.-Ing. Torsten Müller

Spokesman of the core competence

Fraunhofer-Institut für Chemische Technologie ICT
Joseph-von-Fraunhofer-Straße 7
76327 Pfinztal

Phone +49 721 4640-394

Mobile +49 1525 9613 089