The ACOMPLICE consortium headed by Umeco is examining the use of robotics to speed up part production rates. It may also look at methods for positioning plies faster and more accurately than humans can, as in this close-up showing automated ply application.
Good overview of the auto industry's work on carbon composites, Ann. Seems it is inevitable that carbon composites will eventually be used in consumer autos. It will be interesting to see whether the costs come down once they hit high-volume manufacturing.
Thanks, Rob. Progress isn't very fast, but it is being made. What's just happened recently is the formation of these consortia of major players with a lot of R&D dollars committed to making it happen. Costs will definitely come down once the processes and materials have been developed that will work in high volumes, since lower-cost materials and processes are among the top goals of all of these efforts.
Thanks, Chuck. This article was focused specifically on carbon composites. Both metals you mention are considered for aerospace--titanium especially is used in various places on aircraft--but are usually considered far too expensive (materials) and/or slow to produce to consider for mass manufacturing of high-volume cars. Titanium is sometimes used in high-end race cars.
The use of alternative materials such as carbon fiber or titanium, as stated in the article, is driven by fuel efficiency goals. to improve fuel efficiency, there are three main areas of research: reducing weight, reducing dissipative losses (frictional losses & aerodynamic drag) and improving powerplant efficiency. These can be complementary, as improvements in one area can provide benefits in the other areas. A titanium engine block, for example, would be lighter, but might also have a higher operating temperature, reducing the size of the radiator, which would reduce weight and frontal area, lowering drag.
The problem with titanium is the cost of separating the metal from the ore. Aluminum was once more expensive than gold, until the Hall-Herout process was developed to extract the pure metal from ore more cheaply. If a similar breakthough could be achieved with titanium, it would have much wider application as the cost would be much lower.
Similarly, if the process for manufacturing raw carbon fiber could be improved, and production rates increased through improved fabrication processes, the cost would drop, and more products could afford to take advantage of carbon fiber's unique material properties.
So it seems that the research efforts should focus on reducing material cost. Once the cost is low enough, as the saying goes: "If you build it, they will come!".
This seems like an interesting element in the "lightweighting" game. As ratkinsonjr points out, sometimes a process development is needed before materials become cost effective. Who knows, perhaps converting automatic knitting machines to make cloth "shapes" for the automotive industry is the sort of cross-pollination of technologies that could make carbon fiber cost effective as a solution. Glad to see a consortium working on this. Thanks for the story.
@Ann: Titanium is not expected to play a big role in automotive lightweighting, but magnesium is. The Department of Energy's Vehicle Technologies Program forecasts that magnesium will make up 12% of a vehicle's weight by 2035 (compared to <1% today). They have been doing a lot of work on magnesium casting techniques. This would make a good topic for a future article.
Why the fascination of carbon fibres. The same techniques can be used with glass fibres which are cheaper. This can create as light structures which are, admittedly, less stiff but no less strong. The main importance is correct fibre orientation and high fibre density, i.e. squeezing out the resin. The same techniques can be applied to glass as carbon.
The high fibre density is cheaper in materials, lighter and less brittle.
Rapid curing is generally a result of using an appropriate resin - plus the use of heat. The advantage of applying heat is that a slower mix can be used but rapid curing applied once the shell or component is fully laid up. The safest method would be to use hot water. Possibly a water jacket could be applied using the water to squeeze the shells to get high compaction and then the cold water could be run out and hot water inserted to accelerate the cure.
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