Recent manufacturing trends towards fuel-efficient cars, sustainable infrastructure solutions and renewable wind energy designs are forcing OEMs to look for reasonable alternatives to traditional metals. We know composite properties naturally provide these industries with lightweight and durable parts. However, the key to bringing more composites into these markets is to find more cost and time efficient solutions for manufacturing techniques. The University of Washington’s Automobili Lamborghini Advanced Composite Structures Lab (ACSL) in Seattle, Wash., is working hard to develop such techniques. One of its biggest breakthroughs has been with Forged Composite, developed in collaboration with the Automobili Lamborghini and Callaway Golf. Inaugurated in 2009, ACSL is a composite research center co-sponsored by airline giant Boeing and luxury sports car manufacturer Lamborghini. The center acts as a technology liaison for the two composite manufacturers and focuses on providing short-term research and collaboration on Lamborghini and Boeing projects as well as long-term research for composite innovation, focused on out-of-clave techniques. Forged technology builds on advanced compression molding processes using short fibers instead of continuous strands to create a stronger material comparable to metal. This new process for manufacturing carbon fiber parts means less time curing and less waste. As a result, it significantly reduces manufacturing costs and production time.
Cutting edge composite research
Forged Composite consolidates carbon fiber chips and a resin film into a sheet. The sheet is placed into a 1,000- ton heated matched metallic mold where the material cures in a short amount of time. The random arrangement of fibers creates a part stronger and lighter than aluminum. Once the part is cured it contains more than 500,000 fibers per square inch, which is similar to other carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) parts, but the Forged Composite part is manufactured in significantly less time. It is currently being used in the structural window frames on the Boeing 787, the head of Callaway Golf club drivers and the tub and suspension arms in the Lamborghini Sesto Elemento concept car.
Project #1: Boeing structural window frames
In 2005, Professor Paolo Feraboli, director at the ACSL, started working with Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to test the new composite parts on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. During this project, the ACSL tested several 787 components produced using Hexcel’s HexMC, which is a new material derived from aerospace carbon fiber/epoxy tape. After determining that the short fibers would work well on the new Dreamliner, Boeing contracted with Nordam Interiors and Structures Division in Tulsa, Okla., to manufacture the structural window frames and other parts using a process similar to compression molding.