The Ford GT 2017 Supercar, an experiment in composites associating carbon fiber with cast aluminum parts

Composites make inroads in automobiles

A 2017 JEC overview of the global composites market, titled “At the Crossroads,” outlined the current state of composite-materials use in the auto sector and looked ahead to the market in five years.
In the early 2000s, increasing public concern over auto pollution led governments of the world’s largest economies to begin improving regulations on emissions of greenhouse gases by combustion vehicles. This was especially true of CO2.
Starting at a standard of 270 grams of CO2 per km in 2002, the United States has progressively lowered its tolerance, reaching 200 grams per km in 2015. By 2025, this should be lowered to 115 grams per km, as indicated in the U.S. CAFE legislation (Corporate Average Fuel Economy).
This push by public authorities to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is forcing carmakers to drastically reduce the total mass of the cars they build. As a consequence, they are turning to lighter materials, such as composites.
Composites can reduce a car’s weight. The different parts of a car - such as the interior, functional parts, exterior body parts, semi-structure and chassis - do not account for the same share of the vehicle’s total mass and show, on average, different levels of penetration of composites.
For these different parts, the largest opportunity for weight reduction comes from changing the material used to produce the chassis. The chassis accounts for up to 25 percent of car’s weight and could be about 50 percent lighter if made from composites. However, due to the size and complexity of its shape, and the strength of the material needed, weight reduction through the chassis is currently expensive and is not carried out by automakers.

Penetration up for high-end cars

In value, the transportation industry made up 25 percent of the total composites market in 2016. In 2016-2021, its share of growth within the global composites market is estimated to be 25 percent. North America represented a strong market share (32 percent) within the total transportation segment in 2016, and is forecast to have a large share of growth in the period 2016- 2021.
Luxury and high-end cars have been increasing the penetration rate of composites over the past 30 years. From the early 1980s to the early ‘90s, the Pontiac Fiero (General Motors), the Mercury Tracer (Ford) and Dodge’s Viper (Chrysler Corporation) used practically no composite materials; composite usage was between 0-1 percent only. From the late 1990s until now however, the penetration rate of composites used in luxury and high-end cars has been gradually increasing. For example, Tesla uses composites in its Roadster, Model S, Model X and Model 3, of which the rate of composites varies from 2 to 7 percent. The stakes of composite penetration in electric vehicles is stronger than for combustion vehicles, and overall the trend for composite penetration in electric cars looks positive. As the composites industry gets better organized, more parts are being used in interior coverings and body structure, a trend that is expected to continue.


Still, there are bottlenecks for composites in the car industry. Ten years ago, auto builders considered composites the promised land. Today however, they have become a question mark for some. The main issues are high production costs, the current inadequacy for long automotive run lengths and limits in recycling techniques. Weight reduction using composites is no longer the sole option, either. Some believe CO2-emission regulations can be met with better engines and more aerodynamic design. Finally, composites in cars have a low penetration rate because they are not significantly used in structural parts and their usage is limited to static load-resistant parts.

Market forecast

For the projected period 2016-2021, transportation in North America should represent 3 percent of future growth in value in the global composites industry, and account for 5 percent of world growth.
The JEC paper predicted that rise of the global composites market will be driven by the growing number of middle-class consumers. The OECD defines the middle class as those with a daily purchasing power of between US$10 and $100 per person.
Overall, the total number of middle-class consumers is estimated to increase from 1.8 billion in 2010 to 4.8 billion in 2030 at around 5 percent per year. Growth rate for the middle class varies widely from one region to another. Emerging Asia, for example, is forecast to rise at 13 percent p.a. between 2010-2030. By 2030, the middle class in emerging Asia should reach 2.9 billion, accounting for 60 percent of the total middle class. The Mideast, Africa and Latin America will also grow. However, North America is forecast to decline at -0.2 percent p.a. between 2010-2030. The number of the middle class will be 333 million in 2030 compared to 338 million in 2010.

Market structure and sector comparison

The global composites market should grow at 4 percent p.a. between 2016-2021, reaching 12,9 Mt in volume. Transportation, as well as consumer goods, will both increase 3 percent per year, compared with Aerospace and Pipe and Tank (5 percent), Wind Energy, Construction and E&E (4 percent) and Marine (2 percent). Transportation should represent 22 percent of global growth; Construction, Pipe & Tank and E&E will also have a large share in future global growth, with a rise of 18-19 percent each, while Wind Energy and Consumer Goods will account for 7-8 percent.
Transportation plays a key role in the North American market, which is driven primarily by final applications in aerospace, marine and transportation. Comparatively, their global market shares in value were, respectively, 57, 52 and 34 percent in 2016. Within the U.S. national market, the share of growth in Aerospace, Transportation and Construction are estimated to be the largest, respectively at 41, 24 and 11 percent for the period 2016-202.
Globally, transportation represents 28 percent of the weight of industry applications in volume, compared with Construction (19 percent, E&E (16 percent), Pipe and Tank (15 percent), Consumer Goods (8 percent), Wind Energy (7 percent), Aerospace (5 percent) or Marine (3 percent).
The relative weight of industries in composites production varies from one region to another. In North America, Transportation constitutes 36 percent - compared with Construction (22 percent) and Marine (5 percent) - of the national composites market, which is significantly higher than the global average. Weight of E&E (11 percent), Pipe and Tank (11 percent) and Wind Energy (3 percent) are significantly lower than the global average.

Written by Joshua Jampol

Joshua Jampol is an American writer, journalist and broadcaster. He has over 30 years’experience on a variety of industrial and high-tech topics.


Composites Challenges

USCBR interviewed Fabrice GIAUME, Technical Programs Leader Lightweighting, speaker at the next JEC Automotive Forum in Knoxville,TN, and team members from DowDuPont Transportation and Advanced Polymers, a business segment of the DowDuPont Specialty products division.

JEC USCBR: What challenges is the auto industry facing where composites are concerned? What's missing? What are DuPont's solutions?

DowDuPont: As a solutions provider to the auto industry, DowDuPont Transportation and Advanced Polymers views digital developments, new regulations, and a shift in powertrain technologies as key drivers of change that necessitate alternate materials to address performance and lightweighting needs. One challenge for the industry is material selection to address the safety, performance and life cycle management needs at an acceptable total system cost.
Continuous Fiber Reinforced Thermoplastic composites (CFRTP)are one of many materials available to design engineers to address lightweighting needs.  Building confidence, defining unique performance advantages compared with incumbents and establishing key elements of the supply chain are needed to build a foundation for growth with the emerging opportunity for high volume CFRTP composites in the auto industry. In combination with metals, these will be part of a multi-material approach when designing the car of the future, having “the right material at the right place”, assembled in the right way, designed with recyclability and sustainability in mind.
In addition, industry standards will serve to align methods for characterizing performance of CFRTP composites and will promote confidence in the material selection and performance. DowDuPont Transportation and Advanced Polymers has chosen to advance these efforts through collaborative networks and actively participates in consortia including IACMI (Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation) and AZL (Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production) where standardization is addressed along with collaborative teams focused on programs to demonstrate cost effective CFRTP composite production methods for high volume applications.
DowDuPont Transportation and Advanced Polymers brings not only material solutions but also the tools and expertise needed to design, process and validate new material options to meet customer’s lightweighting requirements. With a range of products that span the lightweight continuum, there is promise in the value and the benefit of continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastic composite solutions for application developments in various markets.


JEC USCBR: The auto sector has always been at the forefront where composites are concerned. Where do you see the next frontier? Do you believe composites will be used more in auto parts, body panels, engines, or elsewhere, for example?

DowDuPont: The next frontier for composites in general is to breakthrough barriers inhibiting the attainment of high volume manufacturing that meets the target cycle times at an affordable cost for the industry.  There are more demonstrations for semi-structural parts, that have a higher chance of meeting these goals at a lower risk level.  With this validation, the near term will likely capture a higher volume of peripheral auto parts with longer term targets to utilize the density-efficient nature of composites in structural body-in-white applications. 
One major advantage of CFRTP composites are their inherent ability to reach cycle times that were not thought possible before based on the thermoplastic matrix. With the right process, parts made with CFRTP composites can be competitive with metal-forming processes.
In addition, when Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) drives transportation design, CFRTP composites especially reinforced with glass fiber, will have an even higher chance to pave the way in the automotive industry since it is one of the most efficient lightweight materials from an LCA standpoint.


JEC USCBR: One of the reasons the industry has been dynamic in its use of composites is collaboration: experienced auto professionals were willing to work with composite engineers and manufacturers to make new products. This is not always the case in other industries. Do we still have people who dare? Do you still see this cooperation?

DowDuPont: No one company can transform the market alone.  A company who recognizes their core strength and connects with experts to create value adding solutions for customers will not only survive, but will thrive. 
The auto industry is undergoing a major transformation. As companies explore various options to address the future needs, collaboration has proven to be an effective way to discover the new possibilities for growth while leveraging risk. Education is a large part of collaboration, exchanging knowledge up and down, from the supplier to the OEM level helps team members to become proficient.
The preferred approach to new developments is through collaboration with strategic players throughout the value chain.  Other industries where we have experience with those who dare to dream big dreams are in the solar industry, CNG pressure vessels and consumer goods. We believe innovations in composite designs can be further driven in the non-auto markets with increased OEM collaborations.
The collaborative model has led to the successful development of valuable solutions over many years.  Now more than ever with the increasingly rapid pace of change in numerous markets, collaborative efforts are the most effective way to drive innovation.


Attend the DowDuPont's presentation during JEC Forums, on November 15th


Interview by Joshua Jampol

Joshua Jampol is an American writer, journalist and broadcaster. He has over 30 years’experience on a variety of industrial and high-tech topics.


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