New approach to using carbon composite structures

Posted on 10 Apr 2019 and read 366 times
New approach to using carbon composite structuresWilliams Advanced Engineering (www.wae.com) has published a White Paper that highlights its proprietary patent-pending developments relating to carbon composites and the benefits they offer to the automotive industry and other areas of application.

The company has developed a pair of technologies that it says promise a step-change in the affordability of composite materials.

Known as 223 and Racetrak, these technologies are said to offer comparable performance to existing composites solutions, but with a range of additional benefits — and at a cost that brings them within reach of mainstream applications.

Iain Bomphray, chief technology specialist (lightweight structures) and the innovator behind these two breakthroughs, said: “These are not simply manufacturing innovations: they are end-to-end whole-life solutions that address every
aspect of the manufacture, use and recycling of carbon fibre-reinforced polymer (CFRP) and the way in which its remarkable properties can enable new approaches to vehicle design and manufacture.

"With Racetrak and 223, we have the potential to develop new areas of business that will make significant contributions to the industries in which we work.”

CFRP offers an exceptionally high strength-to-weight ratio and a high level of stiffness, as well as excellent fatigue- and ‘corrosion’-resistance; and while these characteristics are particularly pertinent to the automotive industry, the advantages of CFRP extend over many sectors, from railway carriages to wind turbines.

Despite these compelling benefits and recent process advances from the automotive and aerospace industries, a number of factors have held back the mass adoption of CFRP.

Chief among these is cost, with traditional composite production methods involving costly materials and lengthy process times.

They also incur a relatively high scrap rate (typically around 30%), and there is the challenge of recovering the carbon from pre-impregnated off-cuts — and of gaining value from the material at the end of the product life.

These challenges have seen the use of CFRP largely confined to niche applications. In the automotive sector, for instance, a body-in-white structure produced with traditional composite techniques is typically around 60% lighter than one manufactured in steel, but around 20 times the cost.

This has limited its application to vehicles that are low-volume/high-cost, or where the vehicle manufacturer subsidises the process as part of its learning around new technologies.

Williams Advanced Engineering’s technical director, Paul McNamara, said: “We are focusing our expertise on energy management, aerodynamics, thermodynamics and lightweighting.

"As tools for efficiency improvement, these are all highly synergistic, so considering them as an integrated system allows us to significantly increase the total benefits.

"While we have undoubtedly learnt a great deal from success in Formula One and Formula E, behind closed doors we are solving challenging problems for world-class companies across a wide range of sectors and working with some of the most highly regarded manufacturers on next-generation low-carbon technologies.”

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