Fraunhofer researchers have developed an extremely heat-resistant ceramic-based ink. For the first time, metal components that are processed in the automotive industry at temperatures of over 1000 ºC can be marked with a code. The code can be read via scanner and leads to a database containing all the manufacturing parameters of the component in question. This not only makes it possible to detect breakdowns in production and defective components at an early stage, it also opens up far-reaching opportunities to make process chains in the industry more efficient and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Counterfeit components can also be prevented by special additives in the ink.
An important prerequisite for the digitization of processes in the manufacturing industry is the marking of components for individual tracking. Until now, this has failed in metalworking industries because many metal components have to be heated during individual work steps. Conventionally printed codes are destroyed in the process and are no longer legible.
Prof. Thomas Härtling, group leader of Optical Test Methods and Nanosensors, and his team at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS have now developed an ink that can withstand temperatures of more than 1000 ºC in the oven without damage. The Ceracode® ink consists of heat-resistant ceramic particles and a glass component. In the oven, the melting glass ensures that the marking bonds firmly to the metal and still remains easily legible. The Ceracode® ink now makes it possible for the first time to equip metal components that are heated during production, particularly in the automotive industry, with the highly stable marking. The Fraunhofer researchers used their decades of expertise in working with ceramics and ceramic-based materials in the development. Establishment on the market and further development of the Ceracode® system is being handled by a spin-off from Fraunhofer IKTS, Dresden-based Senodis Technologies GmbH.
Digitization in the process chain
The digitization of production processes in metalworking industries is given a new boost by the combination of Ceracode® ink and the Data Matrix code, which is widely used and standardized in the industry.
"The quality of every component or workpiece can be recorded at any time along the value chain, and defects can be detected at the very start of production and eliminated in a targeted manner. In this way, companies not only save energy, they don't waste raw materials and reduce their CO2 emissions," says Härtling.
Overall, production as a whole becomes significantly more efficient and cost-saving. Setting up adaptive process chains is made easier by the process data stored in the database. If a manufacturer knows with which physical parameters a product was produced, he can flexibly adapt and optimize subsequent work steps and processes. Depending on the application scenario, the database can be filled with further information as required. For example, data on power consumption and power source could be incorporated for each processing step and then used to calculate greenhouse gas emissions for each component.
"There are more and more manufacturers who are asking for such features in the interests of transparent and resource-saving manufacturing," says Härtling.
Ceracode® increases counterfeit protection
The solution is primarily aimed at customers in the metal, automotive and ceramics industries. Manufacturing companies can easily install and commission the system, and retrofitting existing machinery is no problem either. The data matrix printers and scanners are compatible with existing industry standards. In addition, the ink technology can be largely adapted to the customer's needs and application scenario. One example is the protection of products against counterfeiting.
"To do this, we supplement the formulation of the ceramic-based inks with special pigments that glow in a defined color under UV light. This is an interesting option for industrial customers who purchase components with particularly expensive metal alloys or components for safety-relevant systems," says Fraunhofer researcher Härtling.
the project partners Fraunhofer IKTS and Senodis Technologies GmbH are working on optimizing the image recognition algorithms in the next step so that the marking can be applied to additional materials and irregularly shaped surfaces.