Gerson Meschut, PhD, is a lead material researcher at the University of Paderborn Laboratory of Materials and Joining Research (LWF) in Germany. He’s currently developing mechanical, adhesive, thermal and hybrid joining solutions for major automotive companies focused on advance vehicle lightweighting. German automotive manufacturers are interested in using carbon fiber in upcoming production vehicles like the BMW i-series, which is forcing the industry to invest in composite training and research. Meschut presented his findings this week at the AVK International Conference in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Why are so many European manufacturers interested in using composite components?
We’re in the middle of massive automotive requirement changes in Europe. The government recently delegated manufacturers with the task to reduce C02 emissions to a drastically lower level. In order to meet the stringent new requirements, all the car manufacturers have to lower the weight of their vehicles to avoid paying penalties. Under the new regulations, automotive companies could potentially pay billions of Euros in damages, which is a big danger in Europe.
What makes composite parts difficult to integrate into production cars?
German automotive manufacturers have a long history producing cars out of steel and aluminum. They’ve learned how to work with the material during automotive repair and production, which is solely focused on metal forming and joining. Currently, the auto industry is going to use composite components in series production. It takes time to work with new materials and to start research projects to investigate technologies like time efficient composite-to-metal joining. Processes like adhesive bonding, self piercing riveting, screwing and hybrid joining are now in the focus because sheet metal manufacturing used welding technologies that won’t work on composites or composite-metal joints. Those technologies changed in the past and now they need to focus on non-thermal technologies like mechanical and adhesive for future integration.
What needs to be done to help composites integrate with other lightweight automotive materials?
The industry will need to start training and educating automotive workers about non-thermal techniques. The more they are used, the more they will need to be educated – otherwise it will not work. It will take time to change the philosophy in automotive body production. Most large automotive companies have specific departments where people understand these technologies and now the big task is to transfer that knowledge from the smaller R&D departments to the production line. To help mitigate the learning curve, there’s a growing demand for research projects to support these departments and educate mechanical Engineer students in these technologies at university.