General Motors, Teijin to cooperate on automotive carbon fiber manufacturing

General Motors and Teijin will co-develop advanced carbon fiber/thermoplastic composite structures for production automotive application using Teijin's new, proprietary, high-speed manufacturing process.

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Automaker General Motors (GM, Detroit, Mich., USA) and carbon fiber manufacturer Teijin Ltd. (Tokyo, Japan) announced on Dec. 8 that they will co-develop advanced carbon fiber/thermoplastic composite technologies for potential high-volume use globally in GM cars, trucks and crossovers.

The pact involves use of Teijin’s carbon fiber composite manufacturing technology, which is said to provide a faster and more efficient way to produce carbon fiber/thermoplastic composites. This potentially enables GM to introduce carbon fiber composite components on mainstream vehicles. For Teijin, the arrangement could lead to widening its portfolio beyond specialty and high-end automotive carbon fiber applications. To support the relationship, Teijin will establish the Teijin Composites Application Center, a technical center to be located in the northern part of the United States early next year.

“Our relationship with Teijin provides the opportunity to revolutionize the way carbon fiber is used in the automotive industry,” said GM vice chairman Steve Girsky. “This technology holds the potential to be an industry game changer and demonstrates GM’s long-standing commitment to innovation.”

When it announced this manufacturing technology in March 2011, Teijin said it included use of the press forming process combined with intermediate prepreg materials made of thermoplastic resin. The company said it has developed three intermediate materials, each of carbon fiber impregnated with thermoplastic resin. The materials can be used selectively, depending on the required strength and cost of the part, and they can be made with various thermoplastic resins, including polypropylene and polyamide. The intermediate materials developed as of March 2011 were:

  • Unidirectional intermediate: ultrahigh strength in a certain direction.
  • Isotropic intermediate: a balance between shape flexibility and multidirectional strength.
  • Long-fiber thermoplastic pellet: a high-strength pellet made from carbon fiber, used for injection molding of complex parts.

Material and fiber types to be considered by GM were not disclosed.

The Teijin Group, which has identified automobiles as a key growth market, accelerated the new technology development through collaboration between the Teijin Composites Innovation Center and Toho Tenax Co. Ltd., where the mass-production technology for carbon fiber-reinforced plastic components using thermoplastic resin was successfully developed.

"Teijin’s innovative CFRTP technology, which promises to realize revolutionarily lighter automotive body structures, will play an important role in GM’s initiative to bring carbon fiber components into mainstream vehicles”, said Norio Kamei, senior managing director of Teijin. “We believe our visionary relationship with GM will lead the way in increased usage of green composites in the automotive industry.”

GM representatives told CompositesWorld that Teijin will announce location of the technical center in early 2012; Teijin also will be the operator of the facility. GM will work with Teijin at the center to develop and assess material and process combinations for use in automotive structural applications in a high-volume production vehicle. A timeline for this development process has not been set, GM said, but acknowledged that integration of carbon fiber composites in a production vehicle would require "from ground up" design and enigneering to optimize material use and minimize weight.