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Real-World Challenges for Composites in Auto Market

Today’s composites professionals crave advice that’s practical. Many of them specialize in specific market segments and want to hear from peers and experts whose real-world experiences can help them win business.

To that end, Michael J. Hoke addressed everyday issues facing decision-makers in the automotive market, including damage repair, recyclability and production cycle times. He also talked about how composites firms can work together to solve the market’s challenges and win business.

Hoke’s session, “Carbon Fiber use in New Automotive Applications – Promises & Problems,” was one of 10 sessions at COMPOSITES 2013 in the Market Applications track. These sessions were geared toward attendees who focus on key vertical markets and who have customers and prospects with niche-specific projects.

Hoke, president of Abaris Training Resources Inc., presented an overview of current and near-term automotive composite structures and dedicated much of the session to the auto industry’s crashworthiness and repair training problems.

“Composites have been used in high-tech race cars since the early 1990s, but high costs and long production cycle times have kept the materials out of ordinary street cars,” Hoke said. “This is changing due to many advances in the technology and creative partnerships between auto manufacturers and carbon composite material suppliers. The push for highly fuel-efficient cars, which are light but also have excellent crashworthiness characteristics, is a big factor enabling these technologies.”

But to penetrate the auto market, Hoke says, composites pros need to acknowledge and address these shortcomings of using composites in the niche:

  • When using carbon fiber, costs are still high relative to steel.
  • Crashworthiness is possible, but requires new design philosophies and extensive testing.
  • The ability to repair vehicles is amply demonstrated by aerospace experience, but cost-effectiveness depends on an application’s complexity.
  • Typical carbon fiber composites are often handmade and expensive.