ACOMPLICE is examining thermoset composites, said Arnold:
To overcome cost problems, we're looking at reducing cure cycles by processing standard resins so they cure faster. We're also looking at fiber alignment and alternative methods to speed up production, so there's less manual labor required to produce components. We're considering different fiber formats, although obviously we want to maintain fiber alignment to keep the mechanical properties of the material. And we're looking at alternative ways of processing the newly developed fiber formats to reduce the time required to laminate materials.
The consortium views body-in-white and other structural components as the prime candidates for achieving weight savings, aside from the powertrain. It will take advantage of a previous Umeco project, ARMATURE, which aimed at simulating human lamination actions with robotics. Arnold said:
We want to expand on that technology by furthering the IP from ARMATURE so it can maximize what robotics offers, combined with resin formulations and materials development. Robotics will be used largely to increase the rate at which composite parts can be produced. They also facilitate the pre-forming routes, such as ply stacking and orientation. We may look at methods for positioning plies more accurately than humans can, and at high rates.
Other areas with room for improvement include standards and software. Particularly in resins, but even in fibers, there's no industry standard, said Baron. "Purchasing has no established spec to be met. So standards need to be developed. Another need for standards is in testing products."
Rani Richardson, Dassault's CATIA composites product specialist, said:
Most companies building mainstream, high-volume cars use CAD, CAM, and CAE tools designed for simulating the behavior of metal and plastic components. It's a challenge now for them to design for composite manufacturability and to shift to a new generation of composites software and processes.
Car manufacturers want to learn from aerospace carbon composites, "so we leverage some of that industry's techniques for virtual design and testing," said Richardson. The main challenges in using composite simulation tools designed for aerospace in mainstream automotive applications is the potentially different geometries and material selections. To make the manufacturing process easier and more turnkey, the tools used in each industry need to continue getting smarter and more efficient. "For instance, the aerospace and automotive industries are working on automating some of the most tedious tasks in composite production, such as hand lay-up, with tools like laser projectors that can assist with those tasks," she said.