What will be the material of choice for the bodies and structures of the first generation of electric cars? The Tesla Model S which is expected to debut in late 2011, will use aluminum alloy body panels. The highly publicized Roadster, which will cost twice as much, will use carbon composites.
The Tesla Model S
The critical factor is processing time. Hand layup of fiber combined with cure times work fine for an aircraft such as the Dreamliner. But that won’t cut it for production models of cars, even if production only reaches around 20,000 units. As reported by Design News, Plasan Carbon Composites is developing new technology that will cut process times, but - at least as far as Tesla is concerned — it apparently won’t be ready for prime time in 18 months.
Companies such as Alcoa would love to see aluminum used for the bodies of higher-volume electric cars. But steel, albeit newer and lighter steels, will often be the material of choice because of cost considerations. One engineering analysis “shows that it takes 9 years or 122,460 miles, at a gas price of $2.53 per gallon for aluminum structured vehicle to offset the total cost for steel structured vehicle.” Certainly, aluminum will be an important player for many structural components in cars. As reported by Design News, GM engineers selected forged aluminum wheels for the Chevy Volt.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.