IACMI researchers primarily use the equipment already available through its university and national laboratory partners and is strategically growing its capabilities. “In Detroit we are collocating in a full-scale facility where we will have a 4,000-ton compression press, a 3,000-odd ton injection molding press, a full-scale HPRTM unit and a half-meter prepreg line,” says Eberle. “All of this allows us to prototype full-scale automotive parts in that facility.” This investment is necessary because the consortium’s automotive members can’t interrupt their full-scale production lines to conduct research.
The new automotive composite equipment will be located in the same building as the Lightweight Metals Manufacturing Institute (LIFT), which Eberle says is exciting and makes sense. “We don’t think the car of the future will be a composite car; it will be a multi-material car that will use composites, aluminum, steel and other light metals,” he says.
With the variety of research in composites manufacturing that’s going on today, it’s too early to tell which new technologies or processes will actually succeed in the real world market – or when. But with so many viable options, future developments are sure to open up new and exciting possibilities for using composites.
Advances in manufacturing go hand-in-hand with development of new materials. This is especially evident in the area of multifunctional composite materials, where a quick glance at potential military applications reveals the need for compatible manufacturing processes.
For war-torn areas, autonomous vehicles manufactured with protective multifunctional materials could shield both civilians and soldiers in dangerous environments. Some of the required manufacturing technology already exists. Composite materials currently used for soldiers’ personal protection (Kevlar® and Dyneema® helmets and body armor, for example) could be incorporated into Robotic Augmented Soldier Protection (RASP) to deflect hostile projectiles, such as ballistic fragments or bullets.
Robots with built-in composite fiber nets could catch and defeat autonomous vehicles launched by hostile forces, while those manufactured from “smart” composite materials could travel to wounded soldiers during a battle to provide medical treatment and better protection from ballistics. Self-assembling, lightweight composite autonomous vehicles could reconfigure themselves to build shelters or could carry ultra-light, ultra-strong tows to construct an emergency bridge.