Luciano De Oto joined Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. in 2001 as an engineer for the Body-in-White of the Gallardo and in 2006 became manager for the interiors and exteriors engineering and development for all Lamborghini products. De Oto is now Lamborghini’s division chief for the Advanced Composites Division, which embraces all composites-related activities across products, line-ups and departments in the company.
CM Interviews spoke with Mr. De Oto about his role to aggressively pursue the implementation of out-of-autoclave technologies to increase production rates and reduce costs for future products.
What are the driving forces for an automotive company like Lamborghini?
We are a niche within the automotive industry. We’re not dealing with high volume production, so for us it is more important to focus on the process to achieve good quality results and to match the target weight to power ratio. Weight is the key to our success, which is why we are focusing on composites structures.
Processability is often cited as a major adoption challenge for composites. Do you agree?
Processability is a current challenge for the composites industry. Compared to other materials, it simply takes too long and therefore is too expensive. For example, when manufacturing composite parts through RTM, there is a huge bottle neck in the preform process, which is why composites are not suitable for high-volume automobiles. SMC has more potential in terms of production rate but has not yet reached the performances of traditional pre-preg or RTM processes. The technology used is strictly dependent on the daily production rate. Overall, we are consistently looking at our processability because we know if we can reduce process time that lowers overall costs.
How is Lamborghini addressing this issue?
At Lamborghini we have developed a patented process – RTM Lambo – that manufactures composite parts under low pressure molding that is repeatable in low volumes and meets the very high quality standards needed for our vehicles. This isn’t the ideal process for manufacturers that have to produce large numbers of vehicles per year. For this reason, we keep an eye on process improvements both in aerospace and high-performance manufacturing because there may be a process adaptable to higher volumes that we can be adapted for those models.
What are the challenges and/or drawbacks to including carbon fiber for automotive parts?
Speaking generally within the automotive industry, the main challenge today is the cost. It is clear that there are a lot of possibilities to adapt composites into a vehicle. However, composites are still a far cost from aluminum. BMW made a big statement when it chose to manufacture 40,000 i3 vehicles that heavily utilize composites, but they still have to demonstrate that the project is profitable.