DTC Dutch Thermoplastic Components, Kok & Van Engelen, NLR National Aerospace Laboratory of the Netherlands, TenCate Advanced Composites and VIRO are forming the European Thermoplastic Automotive Composites consortium (eTAC).
These companies, each in their own area of expertise, play a leading role in the production and processing of fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites, and have established a track record in the aerospace industry. Their aim is to promote the use of these advanced materials in the automotive sector.
The automotive industry is showing greatly increased interest in the industrial applications of light materials. Thermoplastic composites that have been used in the automotive sector until now—primarily in sports cars and exclusive models—are proving not to be entirely satisfactory, the partners noted. Their processing capability does not yet meet the required industrial production rates, particularly in the automobile industry, in part due to the number of units to be produced, environmental standards, and so on.
The initiators of eTAC have already proved that in close collaboration they are able to successfully develop innovative concepts for the aviation industry, including Airbus Industries. There has already been project-based collaboration in the automotive sector. In an eTAC context this collaboration will take on a more structural form and content, in order to speed up industrial solutions.
The current rapidly growing interest in composites will have to be translated into specific business cases, the partners note. Knowledge relating to the application of thermoplastic composite technology is not widely available in the market, in part because this technology is still relatively new outside the aviation sector, the eTAC partners suggest. The eTAC consortium will provide potential users with this knowledge when defining their applications.
The entire production chain will be involved in this, since this is a new technology both in the field of materials and in the processing of these materials into end products.
eTAC is primarily solution-oriented, which will also involve applied research. It is a project-driven partnership that will provide solutions requested by car manufacturers and their supply chain. The customer will decide what knowledge and skills are required for each project in order to achieve the desired result.
eTAC plans to link up with existing networks, research centers and knowledge institutions, such as TPRC (ThermoPlastic composite Research Center). This fits in with Dutch innovation policy on High-Tech Materials & Systems, one of the recognized leading sectors. The NLR National Aerospace Laboratory of the Netherlands will provide considerable added value by testing production processes and validating pilot installations and demonstrators.
The partnership says that it possesses the necessary knowledge to make an essential contribution to the current development issues relating to composite use in innovative mobility concepts, such as hybrid and electric cars or— in a broader sense—individual mobility.
The international presence of the various partners in eTAC will enable these services to be offered locally. This will also involve integration with local networks, thus enabling eTAC to have offices in several countries, including the Netherlands, the UK and Germany. New players will be able to participate in eTAC either on a project basis or as a permanent partner.
Advantages of thermoplastic composites. Fiber-reinforced composites have been developed in close collaboration with fiber producers (carbon fiber, glass fiber, etc.); companies in the field of technical textiles (such as TenCate); and the chemical industry (including synthetic resins). The combining of the various material components has resulted in composite materials with specific optimized characteristics.
The first generation of materials (thermoset composites) can only be deformed during the final processing at the customer’s premises. This usually involves a high labor cost component and relatively low processing speeds in industrial manufacturing processes, which is the main reason why such composite materials are rarely used in mass production.
Thermoplastic composites were developed—initially mainly for the aviation sector—to meet the requirements of industrial processing, especially as a replacement for aluminium (with a similar process for pressed parts). An additional aspect of this type of composite material is that material interconnections can be made relatively simply, thus enabling structural parts to be manufactured. The use of thermoplastic composites (such as TenCate Cetex) has consequently increased greatly in the aviation sector.
In the Netherlands a strong industrial sector has developed around this innovative material development and its processing. This has also resulted in the establishment of TPRC (ThermoPlastic composite Research Center) and TAPAS (Thermoplastic Affordable Primary Aircraft Structure consortium).