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From complex assembly process to integrated tooling for Borit

Since 2009, Borit, a company based in Geel with branches in Japan and the United States, has focused on the production and assembly of thin, steel plate components which are shaped by water pressure using the firm’s patented ‘Hydrogate’ technology (hydroforming), before being cut and welded. These bipolar plates are primarily used in the manufacture of fuel cells. In 2015, Borit designed an innovative production tool in collaboration with Sirris to optimise the fuel cell assembly process.
  • Optimising the assembly process for bipolar plates used in fuel cells 
  • New integrated component designed for 3D printing
  • Enhanced functionality and lower costs guaranteed

 

Borit was established in 2009 as a spin-off company of OCAS (Flemish research centre for the application of steel) and the German construction and engineering firm Borit Leichtbau-Technik. The capital needed to launch Borit was acquired with input from investment fund Finindus, in which the Flemish government and steel giant ArcelorMittal are shareholders. Borit manufactures and assembles mainly thin plate components, shaped by hydroforming, which are used in the production of bipolar plates for fuel cells.
 

“Borit and Sirris developed an integrated tool, fully 3D-print-compatible, to optimise the assembly of plate components for fuel cells.”

Optimal assembly

Borit’s assembly process involves thin steel plates (less than 1 mm thick) being hydroformed to produce an intricate ripple pattern on their surface. The plates are then welded together to create a sophisticated network of small channels along which energy is transported inside a fuel cell. To simplify the assembly process, Borit was looking for a tool that would distribute shielding gas to the right location. However, a practical issue arose: how to ensure the perfect flow? A software simulation was one possibility, but this would have been very time-consuming. Sirris therefore opted for 3D design and testing of the new tool.

Design and testing

After carrying out a functional analysis, Sirris’s Additive Manufacturing Team came up with a number of possible 3D designs for the tool. Prototypes were then made of four of these designs, using binder jetting, a 3D-printing technique in which layers of powder are glued together. The advantage of this method is that it does not require support structures in the internal channels and is one of the few technologies that can manufacture solid components. However, it also posed a challenge in that binder jetting leaves behind powder in the channels, posing a risk of obstruction. The Sirris team therefore calculated how much powder should in theory be present in the channels. By thoroughly cleaning and then weighing the tool, it was possible to ascertain whether all of the powder had been removed. Flow through the channels was also rigorously tested using a fog machine. 

Functional and minimalistic design

Not only does Borit have a highly effective tool for optimising the assembly of its plate components, but Sirris was also able to integrate a range of functions by making the tool’s design fully compatible with 3D-print manufacturing. All of these factors will boost efficiency and bring down costs in the long run.