North of the border, a new partnership is underway to beef up usage of composites in the automotive industry. Manufacturing giant Magna has teamed with Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) to open a new laboratory devoted to further research and expansion of composites.
The partnership emphasizes the use of long-fiber thermoplastics, specifically the inline compounding and molding of the material. Martin Bureau, group leader of NRC’s Advanced Polymer Composites division, states that the material already exists, but primarily in pellet form. “Our interest is integrating an inline compounding of all these components and then directly molding them into parts,” he says.
It’s fair to say that NRC’s mandate is to fulfill science/tech policy objectives, which are focused on greenhouse gas mitigation. “At the center, life cycle is a fundamental cornerstone, so it’s no coincidence that focus on lightweight materials and vehicle structures would lead to carbon dioxide reduction in the process,” says William Harney, executive director of research and development for Magna.
For the NRC, the project provides an opportunity to raise its profile. “The NRC has worked with the automotive and transport industry for a long time,” says Bureau. But these were not large and integrated initiatives throughout the NRC, and were not put forward as national priorities. Thus, it’s a change for the NRC to address a large national institution instead of one activity. “We’ve had partners, but nothing that was such a high-level collaboration. We’re putting both cash and resources in the center,” says Bureau.
Right now, cost effectiveness is going to be the biggest challenge for both sides to meet their vision. The NRC would like to apply some of the similar principles used in the aerospace industry related to manufacturing, but Bureau says what’s affordable in the aerospace sector won’t necessarily be for automotive. “Items such as throughput, cost of raw materials and cycle time are very demanding,” he says.
According to Harney, the center and its research will benefit composite manufacturers in the automotive industry. “For suppliers in terms of resins, additive suppliers, natural fiber, and reinforcements, it means access to a platform whereby some of their innovation ideas and concepts for advancing high-volume composites would be brought to a commercial stage. For our customers, it means access to a center focused on commercializing the same technology to deliver advanced lightweight automotive structures in the near future.”