An ultra lightweight concept car from Toyota is making its North American debut this morning at the 2008 Chicago Auto Show. The body frame is made from carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), the same material used in the Boeing Dreamliner fuselage and wings. Toyota says the CFRP material “is lighter and stronger than traditional metals, creating a shock-absorbing like structure with cross-sections that help absorb energy during an impact.” Its curb weight of 926 pounds is one-third the weight of the Prius hybrid. Metal is also replaced in the roof of the concept car. The 1/X is made from a bioplastic derived from kenaf and ramie plants. “The result is a roof that improves heat insulation, emits less carbon dioxide, increases the amount of light entering the cabin, and reduces noise,” says the Toyota announcement. Ramie is a fibrous plant native to eastern Asia. This is the first time I’ve heard of it being used in plastics. Kenaf has been under study as reinforcement in plastics for more than a dozen years. Toyota has been a leader in developing biplastics in recent years, but the 1/X announcements leaves many questions unanswered. What is the plastic used in the “bioplastic”? kenaf and ramie are reinforcing and filler media. Is it PLA, a PLA hybrid, or something else? What are the body panels made of? Is CFRP practical as a material of construction in cars, or is this just a great PR model? High cost and tight supplies of CFRP could limit its widespread use in cars. Are there any unique glazing concepts in the 1/X?
A new compression molding compound material combines the light weight, strength, and rigidity of carbon fibers with the flexibility and lower cost of glass materials in a composite compatible with automotive production.
Plastic bearings are real and millions of them are in use doing heavy-duty jobs we used to think only metals could do. Some of Germany-based igus's bearings are traveling around the world as functional parts in a car to demonstrate what they can do.
Baxter showed off his 2.0-derived moves at ATX West this year. The big red guy still looks pretty much the same, but has some new abilities, mostly due to software. The research robot version is now being used in corporate R&D departments as a design platform.
End-production using 3D printing, including objects made of multiple materials in one pass, is getting closer to reality as we saw on the exhibit floor at the recent Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show.