Water is a serious business at RWTH Aachen University.
Research at the renowned Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management at RWTH Aachen University covers a wide range of topics. Whilst hydraulic engineering focuses more on the structural side of things, water resources management looks at the usage and conservation of bodies of water, taking the associated risks into consideration. The Institute has changed names a few times over the years, but has existed ever since RWTH Aachen University was founded in 1870. Professor Holger Schüttrumpf has been Head of the Institute since 2007. Some six years after taking up his post, Schüttrumpf and his colleagues moved into new premises.
Blowing other labs out of the water
The new building features an integrated laboratory covering an area of 2,250 m². One piece of equipment found in the laboratory is the “Nelli 2” survey boat. The catamaran’s flooring is made of a seawater-resistant aluminium alloy, but we’ll come back to the topic of aluminium later. All in all, the new laboratory enables researchers to conduct experiments with watertight materials on an even larger scale. For example, there is a three-metre-high model dyke containing plastic mats with sensors that provide information on movements. There is also a 400 m³ tank underneath the floor of the lab that combines with an elevated tank (constant water head of 7 m) and a DN400 ring main to generate water circulation with a flow rate of 1,200 l/s.
An elegant solution for special requirements
Over the course of their various experiments, the researchers regularly need to machine watertight materials to exact dimensions. To do so, they use a panel bending machine in the lab, the basic frame of which is made with profiles from our MB Building Kit System. Head of the model construction department Manfred Kriegel, who has worked at the Institute for over 40 years, explains how it works: “To put it in simple terms, you have to imagine the machine has a 1.2 mm long wire in the middle, which is heated to 150 degrees. When material such as plastic or plexiglass is laid over the machine, the area directly above the wire heats up.” The plastic is used to build water channels, for example.
Once it has been treated in this way, the material becomes soft, like rubber, at the point where it has been heated and can be shaped as required. For example, it can be placed against an angle bracket so that it takes on exactly the same shape as the bracket. The key advantage is that you can warm up specific parts of the plastic separately. Of course, you could also put plastic into a mould and then heat the whole thing up in an oven, but then you’d have to work with a panel that was soft over its entire surface area. By contrast, plastic treated using the panel bending machine only becomes soft exactly where you want it to, and the surrounding material remains unaffected. The alternative approach using an oven carries the risk that side areas could also become deformed.
Well ahead of the competition
Having used a competitor’s material in the past, the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management opted for our water-resistant profile technology. One of the many reasons they decided to switch was the quality of the material, as Kriegel explains: “At item, no matter where along the groove you insert a T-Slot Nut, the thrust piece holds it in place. If I have a vertical profile, the T-Slot Nut naturally stays exactly where I want it.” The avid researcher also appreciates the “exceptional versatility” of our profile technology. That’s why the Institute now also uses item Hinges in its models’ weir doors, which are used to regulate water levels.
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