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USCAR Wins Patent for Composite Floor Pan

USCAR Wins Patent for Composite Floor Pan

The U.S. Patent Office awarded a patent on the concept of a composite automotive floor pan to the United States Council for Automotive Research LLC (USCAR), the collaborative automotive technology organization of Chrysler, Ford Motor and General Motors.

USCAR Wins Patent for Composite Floor Pan
"If structural composite panels can move into production, one molded fabric SMC (sheet molding compound) floor panel could replace up to 17 steel parts and shed up to 25 pounds from the weight of a typical passenger car," says Libby Berger, project chair and staff researcher in General Motors' Chemical Sciences and Materials Systems Lab. "This patent is among the many great milestones of this project."

The USCAR program that performed the research is called the U.S. Automotive Materials Partnership LLC (USAMP) Automotive Composites Consortium (ACC).

The patent applies to a multi-layered composite automotive floor pan that defines part of the passenger compartment and includes a high-elongation fabric layer sandwiched between glass fabric layers.

The floor pan is configured to absorb or transfer dynamic external loads (crash forces). The composite pan passed load tests while maintaining the material integrity of the floor pan.

"The ACC composite underbody project has been a very successful collaboration among a remarkable array of suppliers and researchers from academia and the auto industry," says Berger.

The SMC composite used by the ACC combines glass fiber and polyester. Carbon-fiber reinforced plastic composites remain too expensive for large-scale automotive use.

There are scale-related production problems for thermoset composite plastic technologies, carbon and glass.

Currently, SMC component manufacturers use chopped fiberglass and resin to mold a variety of parts such as wheel housing supports, instrument panels, and appearance-grade or surface-quality parts, such as trunk lids and doors.

Fiberglass fabric, while more structurally robust, has unique and more complex forming requirements. How multiple layers are joined and preformed, and how deformation affects material properties are among the areas continuing to be researched by ACC.

In addition to the three USCAR-based automakers represented by ACC, participants in the project include the U.S. Department of Energy, which provided partial funding for the project through a cooperative agreement with USAMP; Multimatic Engineering; Century Tool & Gage Inc.; Continental Structural Plastics; Wolfden Products Inc.; IBIS Associates; Camanoe Associates; and researchers from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

USCAR was founded in 1992.
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