Weight watchers

A European research consortium has announced a breakthrough in cutting
the weight of cars by producing and testing a full-scale carbon fibre
floorpan.

A European research consortium has announced a breakthrough in cutting the weight of cars by producing and testing a full-scale carbon fibre floorpan.

The EU-funded TECABS project claims its advanced composite has produced a floorpan 50 per cent lighter than its steel equivalent, using 70 per cent fewer parts. The floorpan can be combined with sills, roof, pillars and side panels from the same material.

The team claims the development will result in safe and fast cars requiring smaller engines and so producing fewer emissions. The consortium used advanced multiaxial technology, in which heavy-tow carbon fibre yarns are woven into non-crimp fabric (NCF) to produce the composite. This is then shaped into parts using a high-speed pre-forming process. These are assembled into an injection mould, together with more complex braided pre-forms and foam cores for sandwich parts. Finally, epoxy resin is injected into the mould, using a new high-speed low-cost resin transfer moulding process, to create the floorpan.

The team claims its yarns are cheaper than those used in aeronautics, and that fabric waste is kept to a minimum throughout the process. Such large composite parts are currently used mainly in costly niche-market cars, but the new pre-forming technology would allow cost-effective, high-speed production of 50 units per day, which the team claimed was, ‘a vast improvement over current carbon composite structures and a rate approaching true mass-market production.’

TECABS co-ordinator Jürgen Stieg of Volkswagen, said: ‘Consumers want comfort and safety, driveability and power. These tend to be the characteristics of a heavier car. But the same consumers want cost efficiency, and we all want to reduce emissions, and these things demand that we reduce the weight of cars.’

Meanwhile, a new high-performance, lightweight magnesium alloy invented in Australia has been chosen to build a new car engine for the United States Automotive Materials Partnership (USAMP).

The alloy, AM-SC1, was specially developed by Australia’s Co-operative Research Centre for Cast Metals Manufacturing to withstand high temperatures. Using magnesium instead of iron in a car’s engine block results in greenhouse gas savings, the equivalent of 2.75 tonnes of CO2 over the life of the car. The alloy’s strength is in its microstructure, with magnesium grains being bound by very fine inter-metallic layers.

USAMP is sponsored by the US Council for Automotive Research, which includes Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler.

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