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Continental Structural Plastics and Mitsubishi Rayon exploring joint venture for carbon fiber automotive structural components

Continental Structural Plastics (CSP) has signed a memorandum of understanding with Mitsubishi Rayon (MRC), regarding the development and manufacturing of innovative carbon fiber structural components for the automotive industry in North America. Under the MoU, CSP and MRC will begin detailed studies to substantiate the establishment of an equity-based joint venture.

Specifically, the new joint venture will produce compression molded components made from carbon fiber reinforced plastic materials, which could include carbon fiber sheet molded compound (SMC) and/or Pre-preg carbon fiber Compression Molding (PCM).These components will include Class A body panels, as well as non-class A structural automotive applications including: pillars; engine cradles or supports; radiator supports; frames and rails; bumper beams; underbody shields; door inners and intrusion beams.

JEC Innovation Award. Continental Structural Plastics recently received the JEC World 2016 Innovation Award in the Automotive Exterior Parts category for its multi-material decklid concept. This decklid, featuring a TCA Ultra Lite outer and a carbon fiber resin transfer molded (RTM) inner, weighs 12.11 lbs. (5.5 kg.)—a 13% weight savings over a similar decklid made from aluminum.

The decklid was developed as part of a study to compare the weight of decklids made from steel or aluminum versus a multi-material approach. Also key was reducing the cycle time associated with the use of carbon fiber.

The carbon fiber RTM structural inner component represents a number of breakthroughs in the use of recycled carbon fiber materials for cost-effective mass production applications. Using preformed carbon fiber mats infused with a Hexion fast-cure, epoxy-based resin played a key role in CSP being able to successfully reduce the cycle time associated with high carbon fiber content RTM. From injection time to cure to completion, the total cycle time for this component is 2.5 to 3 minutes.

In addition, the infusion tool used to create functional prototypes was developed and produced using 3D printing. The entire process can be completed in 2-3 weeks. This is significant because it will enable CSP to take design data and provide an OEM with a functional prototype part in a significantly reduced timeframe than what is currently customary. Finally, to further reduce costs and control quality, CSP is developing a process to manufacture its own carbon fiber mat using various carbon fiber content.

Introduced by CSP in 2014, and currently in production on the 2016 Chevrolet C7 Corvette, TCA Ultra Lite is a 1.2 specific gravity material that offers as much as a 40% weight savings over standard density composite materials. It provides automakers an opportunity to achieve a Class A finish with a material that is E-coat oven capable, and resistant to corrosion, dents and dings.

Because there is no degradation of mechanical properties, lighter parts molded with TCA Ultra Lite do not have to be made thicker, or incorporate structural reinforcements, to maintain the desired performance qualities.

Specifically, Ultra Lite technology uses treated glass bubbles to replace Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3), allowing the resin to adhere to the matrix and increase the interfacial strength between the bubble and the resin. This is a patented treatment technology that results in a more robust resin mix that makes molded parts more resistant to handling damage, and prevents the micro-cracks that cause paint pops, pits and blistering.

The product also uses Owens Corning Advantex glass technology which can be manufactured with lower environmental impact compared to other glass types. Glass reinforced polymers can have a lower global warming potential (GWP) than steel in the production and use phase for automotive applications such as body parts.

In addition, TCA Ultra Lite provides the benefits that come with using a composite over a metal, including significantly reduced tooling costs (50 percent or more, depending on production volumes) and the ability to achieve unique design cues such as deep draws that can’t be achieved with a stamped metal.

In late 2015, CSP received the CAMX Unsurpassed Innovation Award and the SPE Grand Award for this material technology.


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