Carbon fiber is up to five times as strong as steel, twice as stiff, and one-third the weight, which is why it has been widely used in aerospace applications and in the construction of racing cars.
Production models make use of this material as well; that is, if you consider a McLaren MP4-12C, a Pagani Huayra or a Ferrari Enzo a regular “production car". Carbon fiber is very expensive and takes a lot of time to produce, but those companies can afford to price their products accordingly.
Ford displayed a Focus bonnet made out of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) at the Composites Europe event held at Dusseldorf in Germany. The CFRP bonnet is more than 50 percent lighter than a conventional one made out of steel; and according to Ford’s European Research Center, it also has a relatively short production time so it can be used in regular assembly lines.
The Blue Oval is participating in the Hightech.NRW research project, teaming up with specialists from the Institute of Automotive Engineering at Aachen University, Henkel, Evonik, IKV, Composite Impulse and Toho Tenax.
The project, which has been running since 2010 and will continue until September 2013, aims to develop cost-effective methods for body panels made out of carbon fiber composites, meeting painting standards and reducing their production time.
“Reducing a vehicle’s weight can deliver major benefits for fuel consumption but a process for fast and affordable production of carbon fiber automotive parts in large numbers has never been available”, said Inga Wehmeyer, advanced materials and processes research engineer in Ford’s 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 fiber components.”
Ford said that, while the techniques that have been refined and developed for the prototype Focus bonnet will not be seen in production in the near future, they could be transferred to higher volume applications at a later date.
By Andrew Tsaousis