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Composites: Past Present & Future: Is the Window Still Open for Carbon Fiber in Automobiles?


By Dale Brosius | April 2008

Racing applications spurred carbon fiber use in street-legal automobiles, which peaked from 2000 to 2005, most notably in “supercars”: the Ferrari Enzo and the Lamborghini Murciélago, followed shortly after by the Porsche Carrera GT and the McLaren Mercedes SLR. Some were produced in volumes up to 500 per year. All made extensive use of carbon fiber not only in body panels but also in the structure, or “monocoque,” of the vehicle. These inspired a handful of niche vehicle producers, mostly in the U.K., to introduce carbon-intensive but lower-cost sports cars in volumes of 25 to 250 per year.

More important, the major OEMs jumped into the market, lured by a chronic oversupply of fiber and depressed pricing in the wake of aerospace cutbacks that followed 9/11, and supported by active development efforts on the part of fiber suppliers, who were exploring new markets. Although the OEMs offered carbon fiber only on portions of the vehicle, those parts were produced in higher unit volumes. Examples include the front-end structure of the Dodge Viper, the rear deck inner panel on the Ford GT, and the spoiler on the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. I was integrally involved in the development and production of the 2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 carbon fiber hood, offered in a limited edition of 2,500 vehicles. Using a specially developed, fast-curing prepreg and lean manufacturing techniques, we were able to run up to eight autoclave cycles per day, a first for the advanced composites industry. During the same period, we developed the lightweight fenders for the current Corvette Z06, with volumes now up to 7,000 vehicles per year. Even carbon driveshafts made a return, produced in volumes up to 150,000 annually for several lines of Japanese vehicles.

What the fiber suppliers didn’t know, or knew and didn’t reveal, was that the low material prices weren’t sustainable. When the aerospace market revived in 2004 and supply tightened, the auto industry was the first to feel the pinch. A number of planned projects were cancelled due to lack of fiber and high prices, and automakers became very skeptical about the material’s future. Each fall, at the Society of Plastics Engineers’ Automotive Composites Conference, we have several panel discussions in which the prospects for carbon fiber use in automobiles are hotly debated. While everyone acknowledges the benefits offered by carbon fiber, the lack of affordable materials and the absence of effective mass-production techniques for thin, lightweight carbon composite structures make the task a daunting one, indeed. Much of the momentum from the first half of the decade has been lost.

Is the window of opportunity closed for carbon fiber? None of the traditional supercar manufacturers appear to be planning carbon-intensive follow-on vehicles The Enzo and Carrera GT are out of production. The SLR is winding down, and Mercedes has stated they don’t have another on the drawing board. The newer Ferraris are mostly aluminum with a little carbon thrown in here and there. While the Murciélago is being produced as a roadster in limited volume, no new design appears to be imminent. Most of the major OEM projects are out of production: the Ford GT run ended two years ago. The Viper is still in production, but at lower rates, and while there is a street-legal racing version available with carbon body panels, only 100 are produced each year. GM, alone among the big OEMs, still shows confidence in the material, with a number of carbon components on the Corvette ZR1, slated for 2,000 vehicles per year. Set to enter production this fall, its hood, roof, roof bow, fenders, rocker molding and front splitter are carbon (the roof, roof bow, splitter and rocker moldings have exposed carbon weave), with doors, rear quarter panels and rear hatch in conventional SMC. While the aftermarket continues to produce carbon hoods, spoilers, wheels and a variety of other components to satisfy growing interest, carbon’s automotive future is anything but clear.

So, what’s being done to address the affordability issues? From the fiber side, all the fiber producers are bringing additional capacity on stream, but this is not likely to return fiber pricing to levels seen in 2002. Efforts to carbonize a new low-cost textile precursor, now underway at Oak Ridge National Labs (Oak Ridge, Tenn.) look promising, although the fiber is expected to have properties below those of traditional materials. Perhaps a fiber with 80 percent of the properties at half the price of traditional fiber will be suitable for higher volume manufacturing techniques, such as SMC or thermoplastic stamping. If so, the demand curve could head up rapidly. But more effort will be needed in higher rate processing of continuous fiber forms to take full advantage of the material. My conversations with the OEMs indicate that the window still remains open, but suppliers should expect to make long-term commitments. And me? I’m looking forward to test driving that new Corvette ZR1 this fall!

Full Article: http://www.compositesworld.com/ct/issues/2008/April/112796

 

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There will always be new polymers making there way to market in the automotive industry. The automotive industry has been heavily investing in material research (especially in the last decade).

Is carbon fibre the future. I doubt it. Not only is it expensive and supply constrained. But processes do not exist that make carbon fibre good for mass production (at least not on the scale seen in the automotive industry).

But there will always be new polymers and alloys that will continue to make cars lighter and stronger. Material research is only going to intensify in the future.
 

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How recycleable is this stuff?
I've heard not very, although I believe it can be burned as fuel.
 

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Heres the problem. I know because I use carbon extensively in things I produce from my side business.
There was a glut of carbon manufacturing capacity a couple years ago. There are only a few makers and they are large. When Boeing set up the contracts the last couple of years for material for the 777 dreamliner they basically told the manufacturers that they would buy everything they could make at a higher price. They cornered the market and the few manufacturers canceled all their other contracts to those they were supplying and basically eliminated small volume sales.
Unfortunately the process of turning rayon fiber into carbon is a closely guarded secret held by a few companies and so its not as simple as just starting a company to make carbon tow (thread) so until someone with alot of cash cracks that nut with some new start ups the market is kind of screwed.
 

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until they find something more suitable, of course there's a use for it in the auto industry. i know battery and hybrid technology is already expensive, but using lighter materials such as CF and aluminum would make the benefits even greater.
 

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Sounds to me like a perfect time to work with suppliers (non-Asian, a lot of carbon fiber is spun in Japan) and build them up!
 

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I always wonder about injection molded polycarbonate. They make virtually unbreakable plates and trays out of it and canopies for jet fighters. (Ever see the video where they challenged people to try and break a polycarbonate plate. The even drop a wrecking ball on a plate and it does not break)

Imagine if they could injection mold the entire frame of a car in less than 30 seconds!
 

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I've had the opportunity to help develop several FRP advanced composite part manufacturing processes, most often using carbon fiber. FRP (fiber-reinforced polymer) parts will never be as inexpensive as steel/aluminum, and the cost of carbon fiber tow isn't the major reason. Manufacturing costs are. Regardless of the process (lay-up, VARTM, pultrusion, filament winding, other) the process and process control requirements result in production costs much higher than traditional materials. Repair costs would be prohibitive also.
 

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I always wonder about injection molded polycarbonate. They make virtually unbreakable plates and trays out of it and canopies for jet fighters. (Ever see the video where they challenged people to try and break a polycarbonate plate. The even drop a wrecking ball on a plate and it does not break)

Imagine if they could injection mold the entire frame of a car in less than 30 seconds!
I'm not sure you would want that. You need the frame to crumple somewhat in order to absorb energy in a collision. Now maybe if you could just make the frame around the passengers from molded polycarbonate, but make the rest from aluminum (around the engine and trunk areas) that could be something.
 

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I always wonder about injection molded polycarbonate. They make virtually unbreakable plates and trays out of it and canopies for jet fighters. (Ever see the video where they challenged people to try and break a polycarbonate plate. The even drop a wrecking ball on a plate and it does not break)

Imagine if they could injection mold the entire frame of a car in less than 30 seconds!

Wouldn't that defeat the purpose of the cars ability to deform in an accident to absorb the energy?

GM had to do some special stuff regarding the painting on the CF hood on the Z06, they did that special anniversary edition in blue with the grey hood (saw one the other day), have they overcome the issues with painting the pieces?
 

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I am guessing the use of metals such as aluminum will have to be the principal structural element in the future. A- it’s recyclable, and B- Most plastics are oil based. As oil prices go up…. (BP Profits surged 60+% in the 1st quarter), the traditional cost advantage of plastic will recede. As for the Boeing it’s the 787 not 777 and that project was the baby of Mr. Mulally himself…so if that’s true, Ford can’t complain about the cost!
 

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Wouldn't that defeat the purpose of the cars ability to deform in an accident to absorb the energy?

GM had to do some special stuff regarding the painting on the CF hood on the Z06, they did that special anniversary edition in blue with the grey hood (saw one the other day), have they overcome the issues with painting the pieces?
I don't think painting it is a problem, unless you want it clear coated with no paint. The clear coat on the ZR1 is something like $64K per gallon!!:eek:
 

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Composites: Past Present & Future: Is the Window Still Open for Carbon Fiber in Automobiles?


By Dale Brosius | April 2008

Racing applications spurred carbon fiber use in street-legal automobiles, which peaked from 2000 to 2005, most notably in “supercars”: the Ferrari Enzo and the Lamborghini Murciélago, followed shortly after by the Porsche Carrera GT and the McLaren Mercedes SLR. Some were produced in volumes up to 500 per year. All made extensive use of carbon fiber not only in body panels but also in the structure, or “monocoque,” of the vehicle. These inspired a handful of niche vehicle producers, mostly in the U.K., to introduce carbon-intensive but lower-cost sports cars in volumes of 25 to 250 per year.

More important, the major OEMs jumped into the market, lured by a chronic oversupply of fiber and depressed pricing in the wake of aerospace cutbacks that followed 9/11, and supported by active development efforts on the part of fiber suppliers, who were exploring new markets. Although the OEMs offered carbon fiber only on portions of the vehicle, those parts were produced in higher unit volumes. Examples include the front-end structure of the Dodge Viper, the rear deck inner panel on the Ford GT, and the spoiler on the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. I was integrally involved in the development and production of the 2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 carbon fiber hood, offered in a limited edition of 2,500 vehicles. Using a specially developed, fast-curing prepreg and lean manufacturing techniques, we were able to run up to eight autoclave cycles per day, a first for the advanced composites industry. During the same period, we developed the lightweight fenders for the current Corvette Z06, with volumes now up to 7,000 vehicles per year. Even carbon driveshafts made a return, produced in volumes up to 150,000 annually for several lines of Japanese vehicles.

What the fiber suppliers didn’t know, or knew and didn’t reveal, was that the low material prices weren’t sustainable. When the aerospace market revived in 2004 and supply tightened, the auto industry was the first to feel the pinch. A number of planned projects were cancelled due to lack of fiber and high prices, and automakers became very skeptical about the material’s future. Each fall, at the Society of Plastics Engineers’ Automotive Composites Conference, we have several panel discussions in which the prospects for carbon fiber use in automobiles are hotly debated. While everyone acknowledges the benefits offered by carbon fiber, the lack of affordable materials and the absence of effective mass-production techniques for thin, lightweight carbon composite structures make the task a daunting one, indeed. Much of the momentum from the first half of the decade has been lost.

Is the window of opportunity closed for carbon fiber? None of the traditional supercar manufacturers appear to be planning carbon-intensive follow-on vehicles The Enzo and Carrera GT are out of production. The SLR is winding down, and Mercedes has stated they don’t have another on the drawing board. The newer Ferraris are mostly aluminum with a little carbon thrown in here and there. While the Murciélago is being produced as a roadster in limited volume, no new design appears to be imminent. Most of the major OEM projects are out of production: the Ford GT run ended two years ago. The Viper is still in production, but at lower rates, and while there is a street-legal racing version available with carbon body panels, only 100 are produced each year. GM, alone among the big OEMs, still shows confidence in the material, with a number of carbon components on the Corvette ZR1, slated for 2,000 vehicles per year. Set to enter production this fall, its hood, roof, roof bow, fenders, rocker molding and front splitter are carbon (the roof, roof bow, splitter and rocker moldings have exposed carbon weave), with doors, rear quarter panels and rear hatch in conventional SMC. While the aftermarket continues to produce carbon hoods, spoilers, wheels and a variety of other components to satisfy growing interest, carbon’s automotive future is anything but clear.

So, what’s being done to address the affordability issues? From the fiber side, all the fiber producers are bringing additional capacity on stream, but this is not likely to return fiber pricing to levels seen in 2002. Efforts to carbonize a new low-cost textile precursor, now underway at Oak Ridge National Labs (Oak Ridge, Tenn.) look promising, although the fiber is expected to have properties below those of traditional materials. Perhaps a fiber with 80 percent of the properties at half the price of traditional fiber will be suitable for higher volume manufacturing techniques, such as SMC or thermoplastic stamping. If so, the demand curve could head up rapidly. But more effort will be needed in higher rate processing of continuous fiber forms to take full advantage of the material. My conversations with the OEMs indicate that the window still remains open, but suppliers should expect to make long-term commitments. And me? I’m looking forward to test driving that new Corvette ZR1 this fall!

Full Article: http://www.compositesworld.com/ct/issues/2008/April/112796



Is there another material, (whom ever may know for sure) that is just a suitable, for use as carbon, to sandwich balsa, as in the floor pan of the Corvette, to make large items? Or am I being naive? Balsa seems to be a very strong , flexible, and very light weight wood that lends its self to many applications. If one could laminate it with a less expensive and more readily available composite, then perhaps a good substitute has been found. With stream and pressure on thin layers???

I am not a materials engineer, so I defer to an expert.
 

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Is there another material, (whom ever may know for sure) that is just a suitable, for use as carbon, to sandwich balsa, as in the floor pan of the Corvette, to make large items? Or am I being naive? Balsa seems to be a very strong , flexible, and very light weight wood that lends its self to many applications. If one could laminate it with a less expensive and more readily available composite, then perhaps a good substitute has been found. With stream and pressure on thin layers???

I am not a materials engineer, so I defer to an expert.
I work on Wind Turbine blades, we use a lot of PVC core material to replace Balsa in our composite blades. There have been some improvements in fiberglass, but the benefit usually doesn't justify the small improvements in material properties. It's mainly a cost and availability issue. I wouldn't expect carbon fiber cost to come down anytime soon. The wind turbine business is starting to productionize carbon spar cap blades. The Vestas V-90 prototypes, Enercon, LM, and Repower all have carbon content in the range of a couple tons per turbine in their new/proposed larger machines/blades. As these units enter volume production there will be even more stress on the carbon fiber market.
 

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Is there another material, (whom ever may know for sure) that is just a suitable, for use as carbon, to sandwich balsa, as in the floor pan of the Corvette, to make large items? Or am I being naive? Balsa seems to be a very strong , flexible, and very light weight wood that lends its self to many applications. If one could laminate it with a less expensive and more readily available composite, then perhaps a good substitute has been found. With stream and pressure on thin layers???

I am not a materials engineer, so I defer to an expert.

They already used balsa in the floors of the old ZR1...Circa early 1990s.

The Bugatti Veyron uses carbon-fiber in spades, but it is a $1.7 million vehicle; only 300 made.
 

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until they find something more suitable, of course there's a use for it in the auto industry. i know battery and hybrid technology is already expensive, but using lighter materials such as CF and aluminum would make the benefits even greater.

According to the lead proponents of the 'hypercar' - Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute Think Tank, it is really lightweight materials that should be adopted BEFORE

BEFORE

hybrid electric or fuel cell technology.

Let me emphasize again - reducing weight IS MORE IMPORTANT than changing from a combustion engine to electric - that's according to the experts who were theorizing about a new generation of super efficient cars way back in the 1990s.
 
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