Automotive composites - in touch with lighter and more flexible solutions

01/04/2013

According to the UK's Automotive Council weight targets for 2030 are unlikely to be met in some vehicle types even if the body chassis and shell are made of air. Thermoset and thermoplastic composites are two groups of materials from which light enough components can be made to meet the seemingly ambitious targets. We consider the commercial opportunities and some of the technical challenges that are emerging in the automotive composites market.

Carbon fibre

Increased competition from corporate changes and faster curing cycles are likely to encourage more automotive designers to use reinforced polymers. Parts integration has being going on for many years. As Axon Automotive has been demonstrating, a lot more could be done in this area.

UK company Axon has developed a city car, a 'B' size car with dimensions very close to a Citroen C1 but with a complete body frame weighing it claims only 50 kg.

Demands for lighter cars which minimise fuel use and emissions encouraged the company to develop its 'body in black' (BiB) carbon fibre composite system which it says weighs 50kg for a city car to 80kg for a medium saloon car. Axon also says that ways to produce affordable platforms quickly, and with modest initial volumes that can be grown with demand, have great potential.

"With structures that are much more integrated you have fewer parts to make," explains Steve Cousins, Managing Director, Axon Automotive.

Cousins says that in a classic body in white there are 350 parts but that as there are fewer parts in his company's BiB it is a lot quicker to make the structure. According to Cousins a large part such as a 3m high beam would only require a 10 minute infusion time.

Axon's structure uses Axontex™ technology to manufacture very light weight composite structural beams with high strength and stiffness. According to Steve Cousins the system "provides all the stiffness and crash compliance yet allows external body panels of any desired material, from steel to thermoplastics and everything in between." He adds that a "new carbon fibre composite resin system Crestapol 1250 LV was developed

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