Speeding Up Carbon Fiber Adoption
Automakers and OEMs would be likely to incorporate more carbon fiber into their vehicles if the composites industry could overcome problems like cost and cycle times. The industry is investing time and money in research to solve these problems.
Dow Automotive Systems, for example, has reduced traditional 20- to 30-minute molding cycle times to less than 60 seconds with its VORAFORCE 5300 epoxy resin. “We were able to bring new chemistries to this industry that would enable fast processing of structural composites to be able to meet the manufacturing volumes the OEMs are interested in,” says Peter Cate, associate marketing director, new business platforms. VORAFORCE 5300 offers both super-low viscosity (10 millipascal seconds) and viscosity latency. It will work with both RTM and wet compression molding systems.
Government-backed research centers are investigating ways to overcome the obstacles, too. Carbon Nexus, part of the Australian Future Fibres Research and Innovation Centre at Deakin University, is the world’s only open access carbon fiber manufacturing and research facility. “End users can come and learn and try things out,” says Derek Buckmaster, Carbon Nexus director. “It’s a big benefit for them, because until now they had to rely on their suppliers, who may not have a great interest in this kind of development.”
The center has two processing lines. One, focused on fundamental research, is capable of producing small quantities of carbon fiber materials. The second, an industrial-scale pilot facility, can make 110 metric tons of carbon fiber material annually.
On the applied research side, researchers at Carbon Nexus are currently working with one OEM interested in minimizing production and processing costs for carbon fibers. The facility also is partnering with Carbon Revolution – producer of the CFRP wheels for Ford’s GT350R – and with Quickstep, Australia’s largest exporter of CFRP composites. Quickstep now has a division focused on developing and optimizing their process technology for the automotive industry. In addition, Carbon Nexus has signed an agreement with DowAksa to work on some automotive development projects.