Researchers at the ThermoPlastic Composite Research Center (TPRC) in Enschede, Netherlands, may be on the verge of a breakthrough that will allow for the wide-scale use of thermoplastic composites in the automotive industry. They were recently successful in designing practically faultless components using a software developed to make designing components more predictable. The software makes it possible to determine at an early stage of the design process whether a component can be manufactured at all. This would satisfy the two biggest requirements from the automotive industry: weight reduction and reduced costs.

“All of the large car manufacturers have a need for thermoplastic composites,” says Bert Rietman, business developer at the TPRC and closely involved with the production technology chair at the University of Twente (UT). “Products made with these materials can be up to around 40 percent lighter than the materials usually used in cars and therefore bring great advantages.”

TPRC predicts distortions during the press forming process with AniForm Suite software, developed by AniForm Engineering, a UT spin-off company. The simulation software makes it possible to evaluate whether a product can be manufactured at an early stage in the design process, and also helps to gain a better understanding of the way a particular composite material behaves.

UT doctoral degree candidate Ulrich Sachs thoroughly researched thermoplastic composites to come up with the right form and to avoid trial and error as much as possible during the design process. “Designers want to know whether a component can be manufactured or not as quickly as possible,” explains Sachs. “For example, they want to know whether the material will wrinkle during forming, and whether the final product and the manufacturing process will be satisfactory.” He says designers can only make flawless products when they completely understand the way the materials bend, frictionize and slip, and the software the TPRC researchers used can allow for this.