Thomas Weidler (left) and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Lothar Kallien

Light is Right

An interview with Professor Dr.-Ing. Lothar Kallien, Steinbeis Entrepreneur at Technology Foundry Aalen – GTA, a Steinbeis Transfer Center

Innovations in die casting – an area Professor Dr.-Ing. Lothar Kallien knows a great deal about. As a professor at Aalen University and a Steinbeis Entrepreneur at Foundry Technology Aalen – GTA, a Steinbeis Transfer Center, Kallien demonstrates how to make a success of partnerships between science and academia on the one hand, and trade and industry on the other. In an interview with TRANSFER magazine, he shares his insights into issues currently affecting the die casting industry, also pointing to the developments that will shape the future of the sector.

Hello Professor Kallien. You’ve been involved in foundry technology for more than 20 years. What developments have had the greatest impact on the industry during this time?

I believe two developments have played an important role in shaping the industry, and continue to do so. On one hand, high pressure die casting is strongly influenced by the automotive industry, since roughly 75 percent of all high pressure die cast components are going into the car industry.. This causes significant dependencies, as the high pressure die casting process requires expensive machines and tools.

On the other hand, most die casting suppliers are medium-sized companies.  They don’t have enough resources to conduct extensive developments, in addition  they’re usually too occupied by day-to-day business. On top of this, there are high energy costs, because melting of aluminum is extremely energy-intensive. As a result, German die casting companies are not well positioned among their European competitors.

And then there’s the fact that we used to lead the way when it came to technological developments, but now China’s starting to overtake us.

What sort of issues are your customers approaching you with at the moment?

Our clients are mainly the users of die-cast parts, and they include well-known companies from the automotive and and other like f.e. the producers of adhesives  They come to us regarding topics such as material testing, alloy developments for bonding technologies, or new welding techniques. There’s also strong demand for process analysis, which among other things revolves around production errors and investigating their causes.

Another area of emphasis is the production of test pieces for various applications , usually in small batches of between 500 to 1,000 parts. We also carry out testing and measurements, for example on the effectiveness of release agents.

It’s also worth mentioning at this point that we’re one of the very few foundry labs who are able to handle magnesium die casting, which is difficult due to the  risk of ignition when magneosium  is liquid . Despite that, magnesium holds much appeal as a material due to its low density.

One of your main areas is the optimization of castings and casting processes. What do you see as the biggest challenges in this area?

The way I see it, the big challenge is to secure sufficient funding for optimization projects, as this is often in short supply. This especially applies to the field of casting, which competes for limited resources with other industries. This is one of the reasons why we work on projects with together with the industry, such as investigating the coatability of zinc die casting, or developing Vacural processes for magnesium in collaboration with companies such as Bosch, the German Aerospace Center, and Stihl.

What trends do you think will determine the future of this area of industry the most? What role will digitech play in this?

We’re already working on projects in the area of artificial intelligence, although this isn’t necessarily one of our core competencies. We’re working alongside a number of experts, particularly when it comes to improving quality assurance and quality controls. In production involving die casting, parts often have to be inspected within seconds, and this is where AI systems can help, though there’s still a learning curve to climb first for quality to be assessed correctly.

As for trends, I believe there’ll be strong interest in mega-castings or  giga-castings as some call it. These oversized  castings substitute f.e. up to 100 single stampings in car bodies.  In addition to the reduction of  weight, this saves time and money, but it also requires huge initial investments in large die high pressure die casting machines. A number of German and international companies are now working on this area, including companies from China. t remains to be seen who will prevail in this area.


Prof. Dr.-Ing. Lothar Kallien (interviewee)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Transfer Center Technology Foundry Aalen – GTA (Aalen)