Finding ways of getting carbon fibre into high-volume automotive parts was once again a key focus at JEC World in Paris, France, on 14–16 March 2017. Notable developments on show included those from SGL, Solvay, Toho Tenax Europe and Lanxess.
However, BMW – with its i models and 7 Series – is currently the only carmaker using carbon fibre-reinforced plastics (CFRPs) in anything approaching high volumes.
One might expect further developments from other European carmakers, but perhaps those in the USA will be the next to make giant leaps with CFRP.
Ford, for example, has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars switching from steel to lightweight, but more expensive, aluminium for the body of its best-selling F-Series pick-up trucks. It was driven to do so by the application of US Corporate Average Fuel Economy [CAFE] regulations to medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
While this switch has been Ford’s primary materials focus over the last half-decade or so, the carmaker has also been beavering away with composites. Take the CFRP wheels it developed for its Mustang. Or the subframe it unveiled at JEC, developed in partnership with Magna.
The aluminium industry in the US has profited extensively from Ford’s use of the material. Indeed, one of its biggest problems was simply that of keeping up with demand. The Aluminium Association says that its members have invested more than $2.8 billion in plant expansions in the USA since 2013.
It is perhaps then interesting to note a number of carbon fibre specialists currently consolidating their position in the USA. Mitsubishi Rayon Co Ltd, for example, has recently purchased composites design, engineering and prototyping firm Gemini Composites LLC, and the SGL Carbon Fibers LLC from the SGL Group. Teijin, meanwhile, has completed its acquisition of automotive composite parts producer Continental Structural Plastics Holdings (CSP) Corp.
The technologies for the mass application of CFRP are almost ready; whether the will to use them in anger is there is yet to be seen.
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James Bakewell, Composites Editor.