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Australian advanced materials company Quickstep Holdings Limited is aggressively targeting opportunities in the burgeoning automotive composites sector, announcing on the 29th of April 2011 that a research program aimed at the development of new automotive manufacturing technology is progressing well, with the successful completion of a proof-of-concept painted carbon fibre flat panel to Class A automotive quality.
The automotive industry is currently undergoing a massive shift towards the use of light-weight composite components to help combat increasing fuel prices, carbon emission trading schemes and pollution regulations worldwide.
New regulations in the United States stipulate that all new cars from 2017 must consume less than 6.5 litres per 100km (by comparison, a 2011 BMW 535i has fuel consumption of 8.5 litres per 100km). One of the routes to achieve this objective is through significant weight reduction, made possible by carbon fibre composites, which offer similar stiffness to steel at 60-75% lower weight.
However, a key barrier to the take-up of carbon fibre automotive parts has been the significant costs and timeframes required to achieve the necessary “Class A” exterior finish - which has traditionally seen carbon fibre only used on expensive, high performance vehicles.
Quickstep‟s research program is investigating the use of the Company‟s patented Resin Spray Transmission (RST) technology to cheaply and efficiently mass produce composite parts with a Class A finish – which would make the use of carbon fibre accessible to the entire automotive industry. Quickstep has been working with German car manufacturing line designer, EDAG, for some time to ensure the Company's ongoing development of RST technology is in line with the needs of the automotive industry.
The Company has achieved its first milestone towards this objective, today announcing it has successfully manufactured a „proof-of-concept‟ painted carbon fibre flat panel to Class A automotive quality using RST.
The panels exhibited an exceptionally high quality for a rapid layup and curing process, with non-destructive ultrasonic scans confirming specifications well within automotive industry standards. In addition, they also achieved outstanding surface finish straight out of the mould, meeting the demands for exterior Class A automotive body panels without the need for additional expensive and labour-intensive bogging and sanding.
In addition, RST should also enable the manufacture of automotive parts in minutes rather than hours at costs that are comparable to steel in vehicles with low to medium production volumes. This outcome is achieved because Quickstep is able to manufacture using dry carbon fibre (as opposed to prepreg material, which requires expensive storage and handling) as well as its ability to use inexpensive rapid-curing resins with high exotherm, as the Quickstep Process is able to dissipate the exotherm extremely efficiently.
Managing Director of Quickstep, Mr Philippe Odouard, said the successful development of RST for automotive parts would represent an enormous opportunity for the Company.
“The ability to provide a fast and inexpensive automated manufacturing solution for automotive-quality parts would transform the Company,” he said. “The production of proof-of-concept panels this month using RST represents the first milestone towards achieving this goal, and we are moving ahead with further development work.”
“These first test panels prove the process concept and confirm our technology is able to meet the quality and surface finish requirements of the automotive industry. Our next efforts will focus on addressing the challenges of producing representative geometries, working with different material systems and industrialising the production prototype,” he continued.
Mr Odouard said the ongoing development of RST for automotive parts was expected to generate significant excitement at the upcoming JEC Composites Show in Paris.
“Given the current global focus on the use of carbon fibre in the automotive industry, we are greatly looking forward to sharing our recent developments on RST with the industry - we will have our RST-manufactured painted panels on display at the JEC show,” he said.
Quickstep‟s RST development program is being undertaken as part of the Company‟s Climate Ready project, which has received a $2.6 million funding grant from the Australian Federal Government.