Yes! The automotive-composites industry really has a great opportunity to make significant in-roads in a traditionally metal world. And yes, significant progress will be hard-won.
There are many advantages of composite materials that give the steel folks a run for their money (strength, weight, & stiffness). Other points to consider: Savings in tooling, the elimination of secondary operations, part consolidation, and the incredible design freedom that comes from a molded part.
You hit the nail on the head when you said that the steal companies "aren't going to sit back and let their marketshare disappear." And who will be the winner? The consumer! Just like many other products that come out on the market expensive (flat screen TV's, computers), after a few years the price drops down to level where mainstream consumers can handle it.
I also agree that, in order to get these innovative designs to the masses, perhaps a little collaborative up-front work (in a serious way) is in order. Automotive companies need to do what they do best with their tier one suppliers: Set design standards that require innovation and demand delivery dates that are borderline to impossible to meet. I say that a little tongue-in-cheek, but I believe there's some truth to that kind of expectation. How else will you be able to push the envelope past the sticky part within a time frame that's faster than the change in technology? Working fast, furious, efficient, and imaginative is the key. I'm ready for a paradigm shift.
By the way, The whole battery/charging system and limited range of an electric car intrigues me...
Anyone ever thought of using the back wheels as an electric generating system? The inner part of the wheel would be the stator and the rotating part would be the rotor. The motor would drive the front wheels while the back wheels would generate more DC power than the front wheels use.
What's the barrier to the adoption of composites? Is it cost? Is it performance. If there is a competitive advantage to using composites, one would guess some brand owner would adopt it to take the savings or performance advantages.
Maybe thinking "outside the box" should include taking a page from the aerospace industry which has come a long way in their use of composite materials for a multitude of assemblies and components. While there have certainly been bumps along the way, a study of best practices and lessons learned from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner project, for example, should shed some light on what can and can't be accomplished and have applicability in the automotive sector.
I have to admit, it would be nice to have a car with the same hosepower and 1/2 the weight. My one piece carbon fiber chassis could support pressure fomed body panels and a fiberglass steering coulmn.
Unfortunately this car would typically cost what formula 1 race car cost.
The reason we still use steel and aluminum is because it is relativley fast and easy to cut, form, machine, weld, cast, rivet, heat treat and paint. Composites from where I am standing require resin to be put into a mold, possibly wait for that to dry, more resin with reinforcing cloth of some type, some way of working out the bubbles, and then time for the whole thing to dry. After all that we get the use of our expensive mold. Where steel and aluminum parts spend seconds in a stamping die, composite parts may have to be "left to dry overnight"
This seems to me to be an inherent productivity challenge.
Perhaps with robots handling thermaly curing resins, spray in or precut reinforcement cloth and 2 part molds this process could be sped up.
It is hard to rethink the entire manufacturing process as it is expensive and automotive is a competitive market.
This will probably happen sometime in the near future, Composites that is, and is a better candidate for new car factories and designs...
I feel that composites are going to make their way into the automotive industry. With Washington's new proposal of 52.5 mpg by 2025, I don't see any other way of meeting this goal. I don't think they will replace everything, but they will be more predominant than they are now.
Plasticmaster, thanks for linking to the UMTRI article. It's interesting that the barriers to the adoption of composites haven't changed much in the past 17 years, i.e. the same barriers continue to be in place. Corporate "learning" based on erroneous information continues to be a problem. I commented on this in another post.
While there's still money to be made doing it the old way, then the incentive to change is low.
Government mandates help. So does the consumer. A big breakthrough would be for a medium size company to come out with a composite vehicle that gained consumer acclaim quickly (right price, long distance, etc...). Then you'd see a huge push in innovation as the "big guys" scramble to get a piece of that pie.
Folks, while I agree that there are distinct advantages to the use of composites and plastics in the manufacturing process for the modern automobile we have to consider the negative influences that are the cause for delayed implementation. All things considered in this debate we each understand that "Composite Engineering and use is the future" of the automobile industry. Unfortunately this will not happen until we can eliminate the main drawback, "PRICE". Why would any intelligent and responsible company put everything at risk in order to be cutting edge? Why create a vehicle that will cost 30% - 75% more, just to be the leader when you can produce a safe, dependable and CHEAP alternative to any existing composite vehicle? The involvment of gov't won't help in the long run. It will only alienate the industry and the one that will suffer is the consumer. Our job as engineers is to come up with cost effective alternatives to the use of cheap steel. That way we all benefit.
Timmy49: I agree. Regulators now are talking about 56 mpg (the number seems to keep changing) by 2025 and automakers are scratching their heads, trying to figure out how they'll do it. They'll need to eke it out in any way they can, and that goes for electric cars, as well as gas-burning vehicles. Since the EPA will calculate the corporate avergage fuel economy on miles-per-gallon-equivalents, automakers will need to raise the mpg-e on all vehicles, across the board. Composites are one of many reasonable ways to get an extra mpg or two.
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