The Composite Centre of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing has won £360,000 in funding from Innovate UK to investigate the way composite material is developed for use in automotive components.
The AMRC Composite Centre has formed part of a UK-wide research consortium tasked with creating strong lightweight vehicle and powertrain structures to help deliver lower emissions.
Composite assemblies used in automotive manufacturing, such as side impact beams in door panels or roof panelling are created using separate carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CRFP) structural composite components.
These structures are secured by fixtures that are then ‘over moulded’ together using more composite material, this not only makes the final parts more aesthetically pleasing, but can also incorporate additional functional features and details to any completed structure.
The CRFP comes as ‘preformed blanks’ of material which are then cured to the desired shape; it is the development and production of these preformed blanks that the AMRC Composite Centre will be investigating, using state-of-the-art technologies to create a more cost effective process for manufacturing automotive composite components.
AMRC Composite Centre Partnership lead, Hannah Tew, said: “Our role within the research project is to look at how the preformed blanks can be made cheaper, faster and stronger, using less material to produce lightweight composite automotive assemblies.”
The AMRC Composite Centre will investigate the use of creating the CRFP material using 3D weaving of commingled fibres and co-weaving of carbon and thermoplastic fibres, instead of the traditional 2D weaving:
Research will also be carried out to see if the way the CRFP fibres are orientated during weaving affects the production and quality of the composite material, allowing the team to improve component geometry and lightweight the composite material more than standard composites.
Tew, added: “We hope the research will allow us to prove the technology can work for many other vehicle parts, helping the proliferation and use of composite materials in the automotive sector. This will contribute to increasing cost efficiencies and vehicles that are lighter and produce fewer emissions.”
As there are already moves in Europe to routinely use composite materials within the automotive industry, the research project is important to keep the UK on a par with the capabilities of Europe.