Composites make inroads into CAR DESIGN/PRODUCTION via partnerships

Early in 2012, three agreements were struck between automakers, their suppliers and composites manufacturers to promote the use of composites in automotive design and construction.

Early in 2012, three agreements were struck between automakers, their suppliers and composites manufacturers to promote the use of composites in automotive design and construction.

In recognition of the fact that lightweighting is a key strategy in auto industry efforts to produce more fuel-efficient cars, the Center for Automotive Research (CAR, Ann Arbor, Mich.) has launched the Coalition of Automotive Lightweighting Materials (CALM), a new effort to accelerate the development of mixed material solutions that will reduce vehicle weight. CALM’s mission is to help automotive companies discover how best to use available composite, plastic and lightweight metal materials. Through collaborations with carmakers, CALM aims to overcome the challenges of integrating composites with metals in design, joinery and structural validation.

“The aluminum and plastics/composites industries are developing advanced materials to help automakers design lighter and safer cars,” notes Dr. Jay Baron, CAR president and CALM director. “By working together we can accelerate the application of these progressive materials and solutions.” Notably, CALM has the support not only of organizations that count major composite-materials suppliers as members, but also The Aluminum Assn.’s Aluminum Transportation Group and the American Chemistry Council, the combined membership of which numbers more than 200 companies.

One of CALM’s first tasks will be to meet with the engineering groups at major auto OEMs to understand their mass-reduction strategies and challenges. This information will be used to educate supplier groups so they can be mindful of the needs of each car company as they develop technology solutions.

Elsewhere, Gordon Murray Design (Shalford, Surrey, U.K.) entered into a technical partnership with carbon fiber manufacturer Toray Industries (Tokyo, Japan) to develop composite technologies for automotive applications. The agreement stems from the launch of Gordon Murray Design’s two-seat electric car, TEEWAVE AR.1, commissioned by Toray and unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in December 2011. The collaborators will focus on several key areas with regard to further development of Gordon Murray Design’s iStream manufacturing system. The agenda will include joint materials and processes R&D as well as exploration of additional opportunities for Toray’s materials in the automotive sector.

The iStream process is a simplified automotive assembly design scheme that makes it possible to locate a new manufacturing plant in a space 20 percent of that now required for a conventional assembly line. When implemented, the new scheme is expected to reduce capital investment in the new assembly plant by ~80 percent.

The TEEWAVE AR.1 vehicle is representative of Toray’s approach to sustainability and high efficiency. The car uses a range of Toray’s automotive products in its construction, including carbon fiber composites and what Toray describes as “advanced eco-materials.” The vehicle weighs only 846 kg/1,865 lb (that includes its lithium-ion battery pack) and features carbon fiber composite body panels and advanced crash structures. Toray says it wants to pursue the concept of a lightweight hybrid chassis structure, with advanced safety and high cost-efficiency characteristics.

Meanwhile, composites manufacturing innovator Quickstep Technologies (N. Coogee, Western Australia) is continuing the PRESCHE Project, a joint development endeavor announced late last year with automaker Audi AG (Ingolstadt, Germany). Supported by the German government, the partners intend to develop new manufacturing solutions for cost-effective volume production of composite auto parts. The project goals include a 30 percent reduction in the cost associated with existing manufacturing methods. The strategy will combine previously independent composite manufacturing technologies, including Quickstep’s Resin Spray Transfer (RST) technology and the patented Quickstep Process, an out-of-autoclave technology that uses heat-transfer fluid in fluid-filled trays to rapidly cure advanced composites. RST involves robotically spraying a heated liquid resin directly onto a mold tool, which solidifies on contact with the tool surface. Then a dry fiber preform is robotically placed onto the sprayed solid resin. The layup is vacuum bagged and then loaded into the Quickstep curing system, where the layup is heated under pressure, the resin reliquefies and wets out the fibers and cures to produce a Class A finish, says the company.

Quickstep has nearly completed an RST development program in Australia, funded by the Australian Government’s Climate Ready Program. The company’s managing director, Philippe Odouard, says the launch of the PRESCHE program in Germany represents an enormous opportunity for the company to mature its RST technology in partnership with Audi and others. PRESCHE will run until October 2014 and is expected to culminate in a demonstration part-production project, followed by a detailed economic evaluation. The ultimate goal is high-volume, low-cost composite component manufacturing that will enable the auto industry to deliver lighter vehicles with reduced fuel consumption.