Who Says Composites Have to be Expensive?
Royston Jones, President, Altair ProductDesign
Composite structures are often associated with low-volume products such as aircraft or race cars where performance is more important than cost. Due to increased weight challenges, the interest of using composites in automotive applications has increased significantly. The excellent weight/performance ratio of these materials is unparalleled in many applications. This increases the need for manufacturing processes that is well suited for mass production.
Historically, high cost and complexity of manufacturing are factors that can serve as road blocks to the high volume use of composite structures. It is therefore with great interest that I follow a company called EELCEE, with headquarter in Trollhättan, Sweden and offices in Switzerland and Korea.
The technology, called QEE-TECH®, is based on a combination of conventional injection or compression molding and the reinforcing capabilities of high strength fibres. Basically, a 3D skeleton of unidirectional fibres are manufactured in a separate process. This skeleton, called the QEE-FORM®, can then be inserted into a conventional injection & compression molding machine and used as a custom-made reinforcement of the thermoplastic product.
Each QEE-FORM® has a specific appearance, polymer composition and content of fibers – all depending on the required properties of the composite material. There are basically no restrictions on which fibers or thermoplastics that can be used.
Typical automotive applications could be bumpers or seat structures. Compared to alternative materials as steel and aluminium, the composite structure is both lighter and cheaper. In order to optimize the load bearing function of the QEE-FORM®, EELCEE is using a CAE-driven development process, from concept to detail design.
“The use of topology optimization in the concept phase lets us understand the load paths in the system, and gives us direction to the optimal shape of the QEE-FORM® reinforcement” says Nicklas Andersson, EELCEE.
The weight / CO2 challenge in automotive industry will lead to more innovative use of material technology and lightweight design. Designing load-carrying parts/systems in non-traditional materials is definitely one of the challenges for automotive industry and it will demand innovative utilization and development of simulation technology & methods. Then, taking it from an innovative design into a mass produced part in an automotive application is an equally large challenge. I think the EELCEE technology is a step in the right direction to address both these issues.
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