Ingpuls shape memory alloys control valves in cars and ensure safety in a Swiss nuclear power plant. Nickel and titanium are also the raw materials used for medical products such as stents.
The Ingpuls office building in Bochum, Westphalia
Metals are also capable of memory performance by remembering their original shape after being deformed by heat and releasing forces in the process. Powers that can be used. Namely created from shape memory alloys for a wide variety of applications. For example in the automotive industry. Three young materials scientists from the Ruhr University were firmly convinced of this and founded the startup Ingpuls 14 years ago. Today, Ingpuls not only supplies leading German, but also foreign vehicle manufacturers. Products for medical technology are also manufactured at the Bochum site.
“We currently have around half a dozen series projects that are used by a wide variety of vehicle manufacturers for water circuits, for oil circuits or for fuel circuits,” explains Dr. Ing. Christian Großmann, one of the three managing directors and founders. In the first few years, when the startup used a former mining hall, Ingpuls employed almost a dozen people. In the meantime, with a modern new building at a new location, also on an old colliery site, a 5000 square meter production area is available. With almost 70 employees, the company achieves annual sales just below the double-digit million mark.
The founders and managing directors of Ingpuls (from left): Christian Großmann, André Kortmann and Burkhard Maaß
New alloy developed for nuclear power plants
According to Christian Großmann, automobile manufacturers and their suppliers turn to the shape memory alloy specialists in Bochum as early as the development phase of new models. “We are brought to the table early on in the feasibility assessment and then check from our side whether the task can be performed at all with this technology.”
If that's the case, Ingpuls starts development projects together with the suppliers, “in which we work out the specifications for our components together and, in the next step, produce sample parts.” When mixing the shape memory alloys, nickel and titanium are used as the basic raw materials. And depending on the required quality, other elements are mixed in. The spectrum ranges from chrome to platinum to silver. According to Christian Großmann, what is added and in what proportion also depends on the temperatures to which the shape memory alloys are exposed.
There are no off-the-shelf mixing ratios. For intelligent shading systems from the subsidiary “ingpuls smart shading”, i.e. blinds and awnings that are not driven by electric motors but by shape memory elements, a different composition had to be developed than for a fluid control valve in a car. This also applies to the cooperation with a Swiss company from the nuclear energy industry in the development of a passive valve for the nuclear power plant in Gösken.
“We have also developed a new type of alloy for this,” explains Christian Großmann. “It's a high-temperature alloy with a trigger point of over 200 degrees Celsius. This has now been certified and approved. We've already started producing several hundred valves with several thousand parts.”
A project in which the shape memory alloy experts have invested half a decade of development work. In addition to the customer in Switzerland, this development can definitely pay off for the company in the medium term, “since these high-temperature alloys are extremely interesting for Boeing and NASA. We also work with these organizations and are in close contact.” Industrial areas in which critical operating states have to be controlled at high process temperatures also come into consideration as potential customers. For example in the chemical and petrochemical industries.
The company premises in Bochum: In the middle you can still see a winding tower – coal used to be mined here
Precision tubes for surgeries
In the field of shape memory alloys, there is hardly a way around Ingpuls in Germany. With the basic mixture of nickel and titanium and the know-how acquired, the company also manufactures products for the field of medical technology. According to Christian Großmann, this also includes stents, “which are then used in the cardiovascular area. Or also as a medical instrument in the neurovascular area, for example to pull blood clots out of the vessels in the event of a stroke.”
Besides such Implants for vasodilation also require guide wires made of nickel-titanium, “which are pushed through the vascular system in advance until they are in the right place. Only when the guide wire has reached its target location is the rest of the catheter pushed behind with the actually closed applied implant.” And you also need tubes made of nickel-titanium, adds managing director Großmann. Precision tubes, which so far only a few established companies in the world produce, so there is a bottleneck in this market. That should change soon, because Ingpuls is in the process of drawing the first pipe prototypes and setting up a corresponding production.