|Prototype CFRP hood. Click to enlarge.|
At the Composites Europe event in Dusseldorf, Ford Motor Company displayed a prototype carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) hood. The prototype hood weighs more than 50% less than a standard steel version.
As a result of progress made during an on-going Hightech.NRW research project involving engineers from the Ford European Research Centre, production time for an individual carbon fiber hood is fast enough to be employed on a production line—a significant step towards increased usage of lightweight materials in Ford vehicles.
Carbon fiber offers a very high strength-to-weight ratio; it is up to five times as strong as steel, twice as stiff, and one-third the weight. Ford says that advanced materials such as carbon fiber are key to it plans to reduce the weight of its cars by up to 340 kg (750 lbs) by the end of the decade.
It’s no secret that reducing a vehicle’s weight can deliver major benefits for fuel consumption, but a process for fast and affordable production of carbon fiber automotive parts in large numbers has never been available. By partnering with materials experts through the Hightech.NRW research project, Ford is working to develop a solution that supports cost efficient manufacturing of carbon fiber components.—Inga Wehmeyer, advanced materials and processes research engineer, Ford European Research Centre
Ford has partnered with specialists from the Institute of Automotive Engineering at RWTH Aachen University, Henkel, Evonik, IKV (Institute of Plastics Processing), Composite Impulse and Toho Tenax for the course of the Hightech.NRW research project.
The project team is using a refined gap-impregnation process, which works by introducing resin to pre-formed carbon fiber textile material in a fast, stable and adaptable manner, with high quality results.
Initial testing suggests that CFRP components such as the prototype Ford Focus hood will meet Ford’s standards for stiffness, dent resistance and crash performance. The component has also performed well in pedestrian protection head-impact tests, dueto its innovative construction of a special foam core sandwiched between two layers of CFRP.
Funded by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the project began in 2010 and is scheduled to continue until September 2013. Targets include:
Developing a cost-effective method to manufacture carbon fiber composites for body panel applications that can be incorporated into existing vehicle production processes.
Significantly reducing individual component production times.
Reducing the amount of finishing work required to acceptable standards.
Meeting requirements for painting.
At least 50% reduction in component weight.
In addition to the involvement of Ford European Research Centre in the Hightech.NRW research project, Ford is collaborating with Dow Automotive Systems to investigate new materials, design processes and manufacturing techniques. (Earlier post.) Dow Automotive Systems and Ford will focus on establishing an economical source of automotive-grade carbon fiber, as well as high-volume manufacturing methods.
There are two ways to reduce energy use in vehicles: improving the conversion efficiency of fuels to motion and reducing the amount of work that powertrains need to do. Ford is tackling the conversion problem primarily through downsizing engines with EcoBoost and electrification while mass reduction and improved aerodynamics are keys to reducing the workload.—Paul Mascarenas, Ford chief technical officer and vice president, Research and Innovation