Car Composites on Fast Track

In a move that clearly signifies increasing use of composites in car manufacturing, General Motors has signed a pact with Teijin to co-develop carbon-fiber technologies for potential high-volume use in mainstream GM cars and trucks. The technologies aim at reducing vehicle weight for better fuel economy.

Teijin, a Japanese producer of carbon fibers and composites, has invented a compression molding process that speeds the production of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) and makes it more efficient for mass production. The two companies' co-development efforts will be based on this process, which has cycle times of less than one minute, within the window for tact time required by automakers for mass-produced vehicles. This short time period also enables rapid production of prototypes and performance evaluation tests. The process won the Frost & Sullivan 2011 Global Automotive Carbon Composites Technology Innovation Award, and the ICIS Best Product Innovation award, as well as being the overall winner of the ICIS Innovation Awards 2011.

Teijin's mass production compression molding process solves one of the two main problems of applying carbon-fiber composites to highly automated, high-volume automotive manufacturing. This is the long, five-minute molding times required by the thermosetting resins used in traditional CFRPs. Instead, Teijin's process uses the company's proprietary carbon-fiber composite material based on thermoplastic resins. The other main problem has been the high cost of these materials, but to some extent, this has been a consequence of their low volumes.

To support the effort, early next year Teijin will establish a technical center, the Teijin Composites Application Center, at an undisclosed location in the northern part of the US.

"Our relationship with Teijin provides the opportunity to revolutionize the way carbon fiber is used in the automotive industry," says Steve Girsky, GM's vice chairman, in a press release. "This technology holds the potential to be an industry game changer and demonstrates GM's long-standing commitment to innovation."

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