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What can wider sectors of industry learn from Formula One’s extensive use of composites? That is the question discussed in this article, including Formtech Composites’ take on the direction in which the European industry needs to be heading in order to compete on a global scale with the emerging market economies and a discussion of the requirements, which are driven by the efficiencies required in aerospace and automotive to achieve fuel consumption reductions.
MARK PRESTON MANAGING DIRECTOR FORMTECH COMPOSITES
With composites making up over 80% by volume of a Formula One (F1) car, many Formtech Composites customers were keen to understand how composites could be applied to their own industries in order to deliver a competitive advantage in the drive for lower weight and increased efficiency.
Formtech began work on understanding why Formula One has used composites so extensively, keeping in mind requests from their customers to explain how composite substitution in Formula One could be applied to their own industries, so that they could develop scenarios for future strategic development.
The development of composite structures in F1 takes place at an incredibly fast rate. In fact, we describe it as a “prototyping competition” in which, on average, no more than five of any one part is manufactured before moving on to a new design iteration. However, this rate of development does come with an associated risk.
It is a commonly held belief in most industries that the acceptance of risk taking with possible failure drives innovation. In order to mitigate such risk, F1 has developed techniques for the certification and health monitoring of components. One example of this is acoustic emission, in which Formtech is now specialized, after developing its use over years of working in F1. The company is working on using these techniques in other industries in order to increase confidence in the practice of composite substitution.
The order of substitution follows a basic law: larger, lightly loaded parts first, followed by parts with incremental increases in risk based around smaller size and increasing load (Fig. 2). The order of substitution has already started in the automotive and aerospace industries following a broadly similar law. But one of the key areas that still needs development is volume and repeatability, which will most likely be driven by automation. This is an area Formtech is looking into very heavily at the moment in order to find ways of speeding up the development of composite structures in other industries.
Integration of functionality is another key aspect of the substitution process. When the company’s engineers began looking at the history of an F1 monocoque, they realized that the integration of a “safety cell” into the chassis offered vastly increased driver protection for a relatively low marginal increase in weight. Integration of functionality is an important part of the substitution process, because it delivers increased value which can be traded against the increase in cost.
While costs may initially inhibit the transfer of techniques and innovations, part of the technology transfer process will follow the reduction of complexity and the automation of the manufacturing value chain. Component integration, structural health monitoring and experimental techniques for certifying composites will increase the confidence of various industries to push the usage of composites further than before, with weight-saving targets in the order of 50%.