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Ford Working on Bringing Carbon Fiber Body Panels into Mass Production

In the world of supercars , carbon-fiber body panels are old news and now carbon-fiber tubs are the new rage. Within the average car-buyer’s reach, carbon fiber anything is just about out the window. Well, Ford may have something to say about that in the future.

Currently Ford is working with the folks at Hightech.NRW to develop a carbon-fiber body panel development process that could revolutionize the construction of every car on the road. See, the reason carbon fiber is so expensive is because it takes many labor hours to build even the smallest piece. What Ford is working on is developing pieces in just a fraction of the time it currently takes, starting with constructing a Ford Focus hood in less than 15 minutes.

The main goal of this project is to ultimately reduce the weight of these panels by about 50 percent in an effort to lift fuel economy. A cool side effect of this process could possibly be the use of these panels on more high-performance Ford products, like the Mustang GT and the Ford Focus ST .

Ford’s plan is to lower the weight of its cars by upwards of 340 kg (749 lbs) by 2020. This would take a car like the Focus ST and suddenly drop its curb weight to as low as 2,300 lbs. That would jump it to an impressive-for-its-class 9.12 pound per horsepower. To boot, it would sharply increase its already stout 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway.

Now, are there really 700-plus pounds of weight to be dropped from the Focus ST’s body? Likely not, but that gives us an idea of the benefits that this fuel-saving measure can have on us performance junkies. Ford does not plan on these panels being ready for use any time in the near future, but eventually they should be a part of Ford’s complete lineup. With the automotive world being a copycat-heavy realm, all of the other manufacturers will likely follow suit quickly.

Click past the jump to read Ford’s press release.

Press Release

FORD DEVELOPS CARBON FIBRE TECHNOLOGY THAT COULD DELIVER MORE FUEL-EFFICIENT VEHICLES

BRENTWOOD, UK, Oct. 9, 2012 – Ford Motor Company today unveiled a prototype carbon fibre bonnet that could help lower fuel consumption.

The carbon fibre reinforced plastic Ford Focus bonnet displayed at the Composites Europe event in Dusseldorf, Germany, is constructed from the super-strong material more usually associated with hand built racing vehicles or high-performance super cars.

The prototype bonnet is 50 per cent lighter than a standard steel part. As a result of an on-going research project involving engineers from the Ford European Research Centre, production time for an individual carbon fibre bonnet is fast enough to be employed on a production line – a significant step towards using more lightweight materials.

“Reducing a vehicle’s weight can deliver major benefits for fuel consumption, but a process for fast and affordable production of carbon fibre automotive parts in large numbers has never been available,” said Inga Wehmeyer, advanced materials and processes research engineer, Ford European Research Centre. “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 fibre components.”

The involvement of the Ford European Research Centre in the Hightech.NRW research project follows Ford’s partnership with Dow Automotive Systems; a collaboration announced earlier this year that will investigate new materials, design processes and manufacturing techniques. Dow Automotive Systems and Ford will focus on establishing an economical source of automotive-grade carbon fibre, as well as high-volume manufacturing methods.

Carbon fibre 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. Advanced materials such as carbon fibre are key to Ford’s plans to reduce the weight of its cars by up to 340kg by the end of the decade.

“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,” said Paul Mascarenas, Ford chief technical officer and vice president, Research and Innovation. “Ford is tackling the conversion problem primarily through downsizing engines with EcoBoost and electrification while weight reduction and improved aerodynamics help to reduce the workload.”

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 Hightech.NRW research project.

Funded by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the project began in 2010 and, despite being set to continue until September 2013, has already made significant progress towards its targets of:

Developing a cost effective method to manufacture carbon fibre 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
Meeting requirements for painting
At least 50 percent reduction in component weight

Initial testing suggests that CFRP components such as the prototype Ford Focus bonnet will meet Ford’s high standards for stiffness, dent resistance and crash performance. The component has also performed well in pedestrian protection head-impact tests, thanks to its innovative construction of a special foam core sandwiched between two layers of CFRP.

The techniques that have been refined and developed for the prototype Focus bonnet will not be seen in production in the near future but they could be transferred to higher volume applications at a later date.




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