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18. Nov. 2019

With their research on a new type of case-hardening steel, materials engineer Dr.-Ing. Holger Surm from the Leibniz Institute for Materials-oriented Technologies - IWT and his team are among the three best projects of the Joint Industrial Research Centre (IGF) 2019 and thus among the finalists at the Otto von Guericke Prize award ceremony in Berlin.

Holger Surm from the Leibniz Institute for Materials-Oriented Technologies - IWT was among the finalists at this year's Otto von Guericke Award ceremony in Berlin on November 13. Surm and his colleagues Clemens Neipp from the RWTH Aachen University and Christian Weber from the Technical University of Munich convinced the jury with their work on the topic 'Development of high-strength steels for alternative heat treatment of components in the automotive powertrain'. "The Otto von Guericke Prize honors outstanding projects in application research," said Surm. "I am therefore delighted that the jury has selected our project as one of the three best IGF projects of 2019. The Otto von Guericke Prize of the AiF has been awarded annually since 1997. With this prize, the AiF honours scientists for outstanding achievements in the field of industrial joint research (IGF).

The research project is dedicated to questions of massive lightweight construction. "The research topic of massive lightweight construction offers great potential for the automotive industry," says Professor Hans-Werner Zoch, Managing Director of Leibniz-IWT. "The newly developed case-hardening steel is a further step towards making cars lighter and thus more energy-efficient. I am very pleased that the jury of the Otto von Guericke Prize has recognized the potential of this steel". Because while cars are becoming safer and more comfortable, they are also becoming increasingly heavy. But lightweight construction has so far been implemented almost exclusively in the bodywork area. In the powertrain, for example, no comparable weight savings have been achieved to date, even though studies show that 77% of the components here have significant weight-saving potential.

This is where Surm and his colleagues come in. A first focus here was on the development and optimization of steels with higher stress resistance for lightweight applications in the powertrain. For this purpose, the chemical composition and heat treatment of case-hardening steels already introduced on a large scale were modified in such a way that the potential of their property profile is exploited to a far greater extent than before. In addition, new material concepts suitable for large-scale production were specifically adapted to the promising carbonitriding heat treatment process by microalloying, which leads to higher component stress resistance. The evaluation of the increased lightweight construction potential was carried out on the basis of the gear wheel component in extensive experimental load-bearing capacity investigations.

The case-hardening steel 18CrNiMoVNb7-6, which was newly developed in the project, showed a significant increase in mechanical properties and a relative weight saving of 26% compared to conventional steels in extensive investigations. What already sounds like a significant saving can be extended even further. This is because, in addition to the primary weight reduction at the gear wheel, other components can also benefit from the new case-hardening steel and save further weight.

For Dr. Winfried Gräfen of Hanomag Lohnhärterei in Hanover and at the same time chairman of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Wärmebehandlung und Werkstofftechnik e. V. (Working Group Heat Treatment and Materials Technology). (AWT), it is clear how important the IGF is for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): "The project results open up completely new market and customer potential for us. As a medium-sized company, we would not have been able to afford such research and development work, neither in terms of personnel nor financially, without the cooperation in the IGF".

The new case hardening steel also offers great potential for practical applications. Surm and his colleagues have designed their research project so that the new material builds on already established material and machining processes. As a result, only comparatively small investments are required for production. At the same time, it opens up new customer and market potential for companies in the steel industry.

Rainer Salomon, Managing Director of FOSTA - Forschungsvereinigung Stahlanwendung e. V., states that the results of the IGF project go far beyond the development of an optimized case-hardened steel. "In conjunction with the innovation network Massive Lightweight Construction, we were able to find very good starting points for overcoming obstacles to innovation".

A three-minute film on the project can be found on the AiF website in the media library at
The German Federation of Industrial Research Associations "Otto von Guericke" e.V. (AiF)

The AiF (German Federation of Industrial Research Associations "Otto von Guericke" e.V.) is the research network for German medium-sized businesses. It promotes research, transfer and innovation. As an umbrella organisation of 100 non-profit research associations with more than 50,000 companies and 1,200 participating research centres, it makes an important contribution to strengthening the competitiveness of the German economy in the long term.