As automakers are under increasing pressure to manufacturer vehicles that are more efficient, one of the first things to go is excess weight. If a vehicle weighs less, essentially, it will be more efficient and make consumers happy.
There haven’t been too many ways to substantially get rid of excess weight, but thanks to the work of a few researchers, this may soon change.
A team of researchers at the ThermoPlastic Composite Research Center (TPRC) in Enschede (Netherlands) has found a way to create thermoplastic composites that not only weigh much less than comparable parts, but the new process created by the team results in practically faultless components.
“All of the large car manufacturers have a need for thermoplastic composites,” says Bert Rietman, business developer at the TPRC and closely involved with the Production Technology chair at the University of Twente. “Products made with these materials can be up to around 40% lighter than the materials usually used in cars and therefore bring great advantages. But many manufacturers are still not keen on these materials. The experience they have gained processing steel, for example, cannot be wholly transferred to composite processing. Manufacturers are often dependent on their suppliers when it comes to innovations and new technologies. Increasingly, it is mainly these suppliers who approach the TPRC, in addition to OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers)”.
During the research phase of this project, the engineers on the team studied the way that the material reacted – how it bent, slipped or frictionized during regular use. This lead to the team creating a near-faultless series of parts.
“Designers want to know whether a component can be manufactured or not as quickly as possible,” explains UT doctoral degree candidate Ulrich Sachs. “For example, they want to know whether the material will wrinkle during forming, and whether the final product and the manufacturing process will be satisfactory. The automotive industry requires simulation of new materials and processes, but the software for forming metal currently in use is not suitable for simulating the behavior of thermoplastic composites. This means that totally new software is needed in order to allow all of the pieces to fall into place. And we have now designed this software.”
For engineers in the automotive industry, this is an exciting time. Not only do these thermoplastic composites have the potential to be a game changer, but this is also an inspiration for engineers to come up with new ways to make cars safer, more efficient and less expensive to manufacture.
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