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Ricardo and AEC partner to introduce 3D composites into the automotive sector

News International-French

9 Feb 2015

Ricardo and Albany Engineering Composites partnership supports the introduction of advanced materials like 3D composites into the automotive sector, providing structural lightweighting solutions that increase fuel economy while maintaining occupant safety.

Auto manufacturers face a number of challenges in their efforts to meet US CAFE standards for fuel economy and European legislative standards for CO2 emissions. Amongst these is the effort to reduce vehicle weight, which can contribute 20-25 percent to vehicle fuel economy. One particular hurdle lies in lightweighting vehicle structures that usually rely on metal to meet impact, crash, safety, and NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) specifications.

The benefits of lightweighting these components has significant impact for auto manufacturers. Chris Red, principal of Composites Forecasts & Consulting, as quoted in Composites Manufacturing Magazine: “50 to 70 percent of weight reduction potential lies in the frame, suspension and body … if we save 250 pounds in the chassis, a “spiral effect” can take the weight down by 750 pounds by then saving weight in the drivetrain, engine, suspension and brakes.”

The aerospace industry has seen a similar “spiral effect” when using advanced composites in place of metals for components that are more difficult to lightweight. In the LEAP aircraft engine*, for example, an evaluation of traditional laminated composites for the compressor fan at the intake end of the engine found that a fan blade constructed of traditional 2D laminated composite material would structurally fail if impacted by a bird. When constructed with a 3D composite design, which uses interlocking fiber patterns to achieve higher durability and impact/load tolerance, the blade was able to withstand the impact.

An example of the “spiral effect”: The lower centripetal force imparted by the lighter weight blades mean that the compressor disk that holds the blades in place the disk can be made with less material. The 3D composites blades and other components contribute to an approximate 1000 pounds weight reduction per aircraft, 15% improvements in aircraft fuel efficiency, and an equivalent reduction in CO2 emissions (compared to CFM’s current generation of engines).

In a statement today, aerospace composite supplier Albany Engineered Composites (AEC) and automotive design experts at Ricardo announced that they have entered into a collaborative partnership to pursue new composite body, chassis and other structural component applications for the automotive industry. The relationship combines Ricardo’s automotive vehicle design capabilities with AEC’s experience designing and supplying composite parts noted for their impact and damage tolerance, such as those that AEC designs and manufactures for the LEAP engine.

Under the terms the agreement, Ricardo and Albany Engineered Composites will jointly explore the use of AEC technologies like 3D composites for providing the stiffness, strength, durability and energy absorption necessary to lightweight applications such as crash structures. The synergies available from the collaboration will be particularly attractive to automotive manufacturers and Tier 1 suppliers that want to reduce body and chassis mass, while also maintaining vehicle structural and safety performance.

“As industry experts forecast significant reductions in the cost of carbon composites, along with continuous improvements in related manufacturing cycle times, this becomes an attractive solution for the structural components of future global car platforms. The combination of Ricardo’s automotive engineering capabilities with Albany Engineered Composites technology, design and manufacturing capabilities, should provide a unique opportunity to speed the implementation of advanced light-weighting solutions for our customers.”says Ricardo, Inc. president Clive Wotton.

* The LEAP engine is a product of CFM International (CFM), which is the world’s leading supplier of commercial aircraft engines and a 50/50 joint venture between Snecma and GE.

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