Why do they take on those challenges?
There are fewer limits in motorsports. Typically there are fewer budgetary constraints; it’s more about what is the best way to produce the part. It might be more economical to produce it as a fabricated metal part, but to really optimize the part for a motorsport application, to save the most weight and still have it be functional—composites are the way to go. In Formula One, it’s par for the course to make suspension members and gear box cases out of composites. But you won’t see that on a road car. For those applications, there are budgetary constraints.
Will we ever see composites in those products on a road car?
As composite processing gets more automated and becomes more cost-effective, it’s a possibility in the future. Do I think it’s two years away? Probably not.
Why is that adoption so distant?
It’s primarily due to those budget constraints. The processes being used to create those products are very labor-intensive. Trying to produce a component like that for a road car will remain way too expensive until more automated processes are developed.
What work is being done with automated processes?
I don’t know specifically for that application. Composite manufacturers, as well as automotive companies, are trying to come up with new ideas and materials and process methods to combat that issue. With more government regulation pushing higher fuel economy, composites will help in lowering weight and increasing efficiency. So there are steps being taken in that direction.
How much business does the motorsport industry generate for composites companies?
I don’t know a specific percentage, but it’s certainly a small percentage. For companies like ACG or Hexcel or Cytec, the amount of prepreg they sell into motorsport versus industries like aerospace is miniscule by comparison.
What lessons can manufacturers apply from motorsports into mainstream automotive?
One of the biggest lessons, and I think they’ve learned it but it’s just a matter of implementing it, is shaving weight for fuel economy. I think one of the other things they can take a note from is that you can do more than just a skin on the car. You can make structural parts of the car, things typically made from steel or aluminum, and legitimately substitute composites. It could be anything from a roof panel to a chassis to internal bumper structures. It’s just a matter of finding economical processing methods.