It's amazing to me how much the race car industry pushes the envelope in terms of engineering technology, both green and otherwise. I know these are typically one-off or short production run implementations, but how much of what these guys do actually has commercial applicability?
Beth, the race car industry often leads the way in introducing new concepts to the driving public. That's why many large manufacturers have their own race teams and often support independent race teams. These guys can try things that are not used in production. The stresses of the race circuit ensure that they are doing things that will work (or they will find out quickly what does not). Lola has been around for a long time. They build prototype cars and innovate constantly. Some of the innovations in racing from safety equipment and designs to aerodynamics got their start in racing. So, this is an interesting development with the novel composites they are using. We might see something like it in our cars soon.
naperlou is right: many leading-edge, and even bleeding-edge, technologies are used first in race cars before automakers decide to work with suppliers to adapt them to commercial applications. It's a free test-drive for the commercial automakers, as far as stress testing goes.
Nice story, Ann. Did they say which underhood components are being built from composites? In an earlier post, you mentioned that plastics are being used in some kind of EV battery partitions. Is this a trend we can expect to see going forward?
Chuck, there was no detail at all about which under-hood components are being built with these recycled or bio-based composites. Umeco, the materials supplier, made the announcement, so I suspect they were under an NDA. This does look like a trend, meaning, the use of plastics in under-hood applications. As I mention in a reply to Beth below, it's already happened elsewhere. That said, this looks like the first use of composites in under-hood apps, at least AFAIK.
Ann, I wonder if these materials are better-suited to EV underhood applications than to internal combustion cars. Obviously, the underhood heat is much less because of the efficiency of electric powertrains.
Jerry, composite unibodies for commercial automotive manufacturing are being studied, but one of the main barriers holding that back, as well as one of the main barriers against composites in car manufacturing in general, is the processing: it still requires many manual steps and is not yet adapted enough to high-volume, highly automated commercial car production. R&D to solve this is going on in Japan, Europe and the US.
Chuck, I'd bet you're right on that one, at least for the materials in the Lola car. Other plastics have been used successfully in underhood-apps for non-EVs, as I mentioned in my first comment in this article thread. I'd be interested to know just what the actual average heat differences are. Meanwhile, I do know that internal combustion engines are getting hotter: several different materials and fastener companies have mentioned this trend.
A little more information for you all in case you are interested.. we utilised recycled carbon prepreg to manufacture the damper hatch (the body work part just in front of the wind screen) and we used flax prepreg to manufacture the balance panels (an aero part just adjacent to the doors).
The only way we could use these materials on the car was by first proving that they are capable. Hence, I have been working on these materials at WMG for a while now to determine their static and dynamic properties. recycled carbon retains ~70 - 95 % of the properties of virgin material and flax is similar to glass. Some results have been published (see links) and others are due for publication over the summer - so watch this space.
Dr Meredith, thanks for providing the information on what parts were constructed. Thanks also for the links to articles with more details. Unfortunately, since these require a fee, not many readers will be able to access the information. Is any of it available elsewhere, such as in a prepublication version?
Ann, do you know if the military has a formal procedure for sharing technology with the commercial aerospace industry? Are industry engineers involved with military suppliers the way the automotive engineers are involved with Indy cars?
Rob, I don't know of a formal procedure as such, but some aircraft makers, such as Boeing, manufacture both military and commercial planes, and many aerospace components and composites suppliers address both military and commercial markets.
Thanks, Ann. I would guess that any development a company like Boeing completes on behalf the military would also be available for the company's commercial development. But maybe not. Could be there are proprietary military developments that would have to be shielded from commercial development.
I understand your thought process about the proprietary nature of military technology, but I suspect it's somewhat different with certain materials classes, such as composites. For one thing, commercial aircraft production is surprisingly complex. For composites, there are fiber makers, prepreg makers, sometimes separate composite makers that mold these into components, and then another level or two of structural suppliers before you get to the actual Boeings. There's also a lot of commercial R&D going on, at least in Europe, and now more in the US. In any case, composites per se are not a secret sauce for military aircraft apps, they're more like a basic ingredient. You know, like those $200 wrenches.
That makes sense, Ann. Composites would not equal stealth technology when it comes to keeping the military technology secret. I wonder, though, whether the military shares the same values as the commercial industries when it comes to energy or economic savings. Given the $200 wrench and cost-plus contracts, probably not.
The military definitely likes to save money when it comes to what they buy for soldiers. That's one major push that was behind the COTS movement several years ago and is still a prime driver of that ongoing trend. OTOH, although my $200 wrench remark was tongue-in-cheek, they can still afford more at the R&D end than is often the case in industry.
Yes, Ann, that R&D investment is often supported by cost-plus contracts that do not make cost a high priority. The COTS movement was gutted to some extent by RoHS. The military still gets a pass on leaded parts. Those parts are now priced at a premium since they have become specialized components. So the $200 hammer will be with us for some time.
Rob, many producers of board-level COTS products had a tough time making the shift if they were serving both military and industrial customers, They essentially had to run two different lines for the "same" product, in leaded and lead-free versions. Those serving only the military got to wait a bit longer, but were not out of the woods entirely, since the supply chain had already become global by then. The COTS movement is still going strong.
You're right, Ann, COTS is still going strong for military items that don't have to last a couple decades. Many of the component manufacturers ran two lines, but the leaded line was a smaller volume and thus sold at a higher price. However, many other component manufacturers ditched their leaded line altogether when they shifted to lead-free components. There was a scramble for leftover leaded parts, but eventually, the military had to pay the higher rate for leaded components that have now become specialized (read expensive) products.
Yes, I was surprised recently to find out from a large distributor that the military is still prompting the purchase of tons of COTS parts. Not everything the military uses has to withstand 20 years of dusty desert winds.
The COTS systems, platforms, networking technologies, and software are, as the term says, commercial off-the-shelf hardware and software, meaning stuff that's originally designed and built for the rest of us. Basically, that means the military is using Windows-based laptops and other standard commercial hardware and software, as well as standard networking protocols, which is actually kind of scary. This is instead of spending zillions of dollars on designing their own stuff, like in the "good old days." Even the NSA buys a lot of standard signal-processing equipment.
What I've heard is that the COTS stuff is used for office and support functions. When it comes to electronics out in the field, the electronics are ruggedized (and leaded) so they can withstand a difficult environment over many years.
As I learned working for COTS Journal, COTS doesn't just mean actual end-system computers and apps software. It can also refer more broadly to both software and hardware design and development platforms, specifically for creating end-system hardware and software used in the field. Ruggedization is taken for granted for military field use; that feature doesn't determine whether a machine is COTS. A COTS-based machine may also be further tweaked--and usually is--for specific apps. The big difference is that the military is no longer spending zillions of dollars on proprietary, entirely customized systems.
Since there were only two of us, myself and the editor-in-chief, I did a little of everything. Mostly we did not address distribution, but design and development technologies for HW and SW, comms, and a lot of board-level products and technologies. I wrote several features on RoHS, too.
Actually, among the high-end embedded board-level products we covered, RoHS seemed to affect most the manufacturers that served both mil and commercial customers, since they often ended up running two separate lines for two different versions of the "same" product. Mil-only board manufacturers were not affected much until later. One thing that did affect them both was the nightmare of components tracking and part numbers changing.
Yes, I remember the difficulties with component tracking and part numbers. For some reason REACH didn't see to cause the same consternation. At least not that I noticed. I guess it's becasue REACH was more of a reporting function.
Beth, Much of what they do has commercial applicability: at some level, cars are cars. Major car makers have used engineering-grade plastics for under-hood applications, including bioplastics, although not recycled or bio-based composites. Tata Toyo, an Indian manufacturer of under-the-hood heat exchange parts, traded its specialty nylon materials] for DuPont's Zytel PLUS nylon for three hot-side and cold-side charge air coolers under the hood in the vehicle's engine compartment. http://www2.dupont.com/Plastics/en_US/News_Events/article20120119.html for use in four different vehicles, in passenger cars, utility vehicles, and light commercial vehicles, of an undisclosed major Indian automotive OEM. Zytel RS (renewably sourced) nylon has been chosen by Hutchinson SRL for diesel and biodiesel fuel lines. http://www2.dupont.com/Plastics/en_US/News_Events/article20111018a.html Other under-hood plastic parts include engine components. For example, Ford Motor Company reportedly uses high-temperature thermoplastics in its 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost engine for the F-150 truck, including key components like the cam cover, ducts, hoses and engine cover. http://plasticsnews.com/headlines2.html?id=24273
Flax isn't like glass properties at all. And I see little impact from fiberglass unless anyone has a sand shortage. Considering the water, land, etc needed to grow flax and gathering, processing it is likely to be more than processing sand into FG. Far less if one uses concentrated solar power.
If they wanted to get the best from flax it shouldn't have been woven.
The Epoxies I use are mostly made from fat and the cleaner is vinegar, water if not to far into curing. I've used this combo for 40 yrs now not because it's green but because it's far less toxic to my fair skin.
Interestingly, many of the older "antiques"--more like family heirlooms--in my house are made of bio-based materials, such as wood and paper (which also used to be considered sustainable materials until we nearly used them up), or ceramics and brick, which are sustainable. Even metals were sustainable, and still are. Most of these materials are commonly found in the rubbish heaps of our ancestors, and give archaeologists a lot to study. Much of the problem with materials becoming non-sustainable has occurred in more recent times because of overuse (due in part to enormous population growth), as well as because of newer materials with complex processes and polluting wastes.
A middle school team from Rochester, Mich., has again nabbed the grand prize in the annual international Future City Competition, which drew students from 37 regions of the United States, as well as from England and China.
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