“When you go into a typical thermoset process – a high pressure RTM process – that will top out at around 50,000 units a year. That’s pretty much where our process will start,” he says. “Our target is to go after hundreds of thousands of vehicles a year, maybe even millions of units.” Haiss envisions a system where the Sereebo parts would be molded in a factory located near its customers’ factories, with the material itself supplied from a centralized location.
Parts made with Sereebo are typically 20 to 30 percent lighter than those made with aluminum, but they are priced slightly higher. “There are features in our material – maybe better fatigue properties or better impact properties than aluminum – that will give us an edge in certain applications,” says Haiss.
The material is now in the final stages of production process validation trials, and Sereebo may soon move into actual vehicle applications.
The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI-The Composites Institute) is a recently-established U.S. consortium of industry, research and state partners working together to accelerate development and adoption of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies for low-cost, energy-efficient manufacturing of advanced polymer composites. IACMI’s mission is to help composite laboratory processes and materials make the big jump to commercial readiness. Its five research areas include vehicles, wind energy, compressed gas storage, materials and processing, and modeling and simulation. It also is collaborating with ACMA on composites recycling and workforce development.
“Within the materials and processing area, we include fibers and resins,” says Cliff Eberle, IACMI’s area director. “Our emphasis is on low-cost carbon fibers because that’s where we see the greatest need and opportunity for making dramatic changes.”
While the aerospace industry has made advances in carbon fiber manufacturing, its breakthroughs are geared to extreme performance at high cost and low volume. “What we’re trying to do at IACMI is extreme volumes at low cost and high, but not super, performance,” Eberle says.
IACMI currently has three projects underway. In wind energy, researchers are looking for ways to reduce the cost of turbines and be more cost competitive. In the compressed gas storage area, the aim is to lower the cost of onboard storage of less-polluting alternative fuels such as natural gas. Researchers in the automotive area are focusing on three processes – prepreg compression molding, high pressure RTM and hybrid molding, says Eberle.
With hybrid molding, manufacturers can take a simple prepreg, compression molded or HPRTM molded part and add complex features by over-molding in an SMC or injection molding process. “You can actually flow materials to give you the complex features but you’re getting the strength and rigidity from the continuous fiber architecture in a prepreg or RTM,” Eberle says. The five-year goal for all three processes is a three-minute, part-to-part cycle time.