Thermoplastic tapes: Here to stay?

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Thermoplastic tapes are not new to composites, but they soon will join the primary aerostructures material palette and could be their future. For that to happen, however, a quantum leap in quality and consistency is required — the same kind of quantum leap that, 20 years ago, helped make thermoset tapes an industry staple. More.

New R&D Could Shape the Future of Automotive Composites

Every year, CAMX is one of the world’s leading events for the latest composites and advanced materials research. During CAMX 2017, aerospace innovation was a common theme among the event’s winning technical papers and poster sessions. However, in the months since the show, a different brand of composites R&D has taken center stage, as a wide range of automotive research has generated buzz throughout the industry.

As automakers seek new ways to innovate, thermoplastic composites are attracting an increasing amount of interest. At the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), researchers have revealed new software tools that successfully predict the fiber orientation and length distribution of complex carbon fiber thermoplastic parts for automotive applications.

To predict fiber orientation and fiber length distribution in molded components, the team leveraged Autodesk Moldflow software, based on models originally developed by University of Illinois Professor Charles Tucker and his coworkers. With guidance from Toyota, PlastiComp, and Magna and materials from PlastiComp, long carbon fiber components were molded and the fibers were extracted for measurement by Purdue University and Virginia Tech.

PNNL then compared the predicted properties from the simulation software to the test results of the molded fibers to validate the accuracy of the software and models. PNNL found the software tool successfully predicted fiber length distribution in all cases and fiber orientation in 88 percent of cases.

Additionally, PNNL worked with Magna and Toyota to analyze the performance gains and costs of long carbon fiber components versus standard steel and fiberglass composites. PNNL found the carbon fiber reinforced polymer composite technology studied could reduce the weight of automobile body systems by over 20 percent. However, production costs of carbon fiber components can be ten times higher than those of steel. The optimization of processes and structures using predictive tools could significantly reduce production costs, paving the way for greater use of carbon fiber in automobiles.

Another area where researchers have made headway is in the development of graphene. Across the pond, Ahmed Elmarakbi, an automotive composites professor at the University of Sunderland, recently unveiled a prototype of the world’s first graphene composite component for an automotive application.

For the prototype, Elmarakbi’s team sought to produce a car bumper to highlight the composites’ properties. Researchers embedded graphene into a polymer and mixed with traditional carbon or glass fiber, which led to changes in its properties, making it lighter, stronger and tougher, allowing the researchers to reduce the thickness of the structural components.

According to Elmarakbi, the material is very light and very strong and the impact testing showed a 40 percent higher specific energy absorption than in traditional composite materials. It’s also more stable and absorbs the energy of an impact in a controlled way.

Elmarakbi says the flagship’s research is attracting much interest for sectors, including the highly competitive global automotive market. Currently, the team is in talks with many automotive manufacturers and their tier 1 suppliers who are very interested in their work and how it can be applied to future models.

At CAMX 2018, you will have the opportunity not only to see innovative research applications like Elmarakbi’s graphene prototype and PNNL’s software tools, you also have the chance to submit your own! CAMX is now accepting abstracts for technical papers and poster sessions for October. Submit an abstract by March 2 to have your research considered.

Submit Abstracts for CAMX by March 2

Be a part of the largest, most robust education conference program in the composites and advanced material industry. CAMX 2018 will showcase the best and brightest – make sure you’re in the spotlight. Submit an abstract by Friday, March 2.

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