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Francesco Ierullo, Exel Composites

Motor racing has always been at the forefront of research and development, as victory is often won by a few seconds per lap. Created to encourage the automotive engineers of tomorrow, Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) is an international competition that challenges several university teams to develop small Formula 1-style racing cars. It is within this framework that the racing department of the Polytechnic University of Milan, Dynamis PRC, formed a partnership with Exel Composites to improve the performance of the steering column and suspension of its car project.

JEC Composites Magazine approached Francesco Ierullo, Head of Sales South and West Europe and Imea, at Exel Composites to find out how composite materials have helped put an Italian team in pole position.

Francesco Ierullo, Exel Composites
READING TIME

5 minutes, 20 secondes

Francesco Ierullo, Head of Sales South and West Europe and Imea, at Exel Composites

JEC Composites Magazine: Could you tell us more about Exel Composites, and what they do?
Francesco Ierullo: Exel Composites manufactures composite solutions to solve their customers’ design challenges. We use our expertise and global footprint to help customers reduce weight, improve performance and energy efficiency, and decrease total lifetime costs.
A large part of our job involves supporting these customers to find design solutions for their products and systems and explaining why they should switch from using more traditional materials. Whether a customer needs to reduce the weight of their automotive application, add stiffness to a renewables technology or improve the corrosion resistance of a building’s infrastructure, we work closely with our customers to create a custom solution for their application. This means that our product portfolio is small, as we develop solutions to meet varied and unique requirements.

JEC Composites Magazine: How did you establish a partnership with the racing department of the Polytechnic University of Milan, Dynamis PRC?
Francesco Ierullo: Dynamis PRC had already been racing for some time, and with a large amount of success. However, being a team of aspiring engineers, they were keen to improve their car even further. In fact, the car was already made using some composite parts. But Dynamis wanted to see if they could make these parts even stiffer and lighter, particularly for the suspension and steering column.
I am actually a Politecnico di Milano alumni, having completed both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering at the university. When Dynamis approached Exel and requested our expertise, I knew I wanted to help them. Some of my university friends had been part of the racing team during my own studies, so I already knew a little about them. The university is based near my home, so I was able to meet with the team and begin the design process pretty quickly.

JEC Composites Magazine: What were the needs of Dynamis PRC?
Francesco Ierullo: The car already used composite tubes. However, these were manufactured using the prepreg manufacturing technique, which involves cutting material layers of different fibre orientation before rolling them into a cylindrical rod to form the tube. To make the necessary improvements, the team needed tubes that were lighter, stiffer and thinner.

Dynamis PRC, formed a partnership with Exel Composites to improve the performance of the steering column and suspension of its car project.

Dynamis PRC, formed a partnership with Exel Composites to improve the performance of the steering column and suspension of its car project.

Tubes may sound like a standard product to supply for the team, but Dynamis needed a high-performance solution to help them meet their goals. This meant that the material forming these tubes must be equally high-performance and able to offer a variety of mechanical benefits.
Dynamis PRC is a student-run organization, but its operation is not amateurish. Backed by one of the best engineering universities in Italy, Dynamis designs and assembles F1 cars to meet the Formula SAE challenge. After a rather successful year in 2018, when its team finished in the top 10 overall, Dynamis wanted to push its advantage the following year.

JEC Composites Magazine: What technical solutions did Exel Composites implement for this project?
Francesco Ierullo: To support the team, we provided three EXELITE full carbon fibre tubes, in three different diameters. EXELITE tubes are used in applications with extreme demands on stiffness, strength and weight. In these tubes, different carbon fibre reinforcements are used to increase stiffness and they are manufactured using our pullwinding continuous manufacturing process.
Dynamis identified the car’s steering column as a significant area for light weighting, but there were a couple of areas to consider before the new tubes were successfully integrated. Composites can risk becoming delaminated when cut, which could cause the material to lose its properties. Secondly, because composites must be glued and not welded, this could have impacted the overall vehicle weight if the gluing isn’t carried out correctly. Thankfully, Exel was able to work closely with the Dynamis team to recommend the best options and advise on the best ways to cut the material.

Composites boast a better strength-to-weight ratio and can offer many other benefits such as corrosion resistance, electrical insulation and frangibility.

Composites boast a better strength-to-weight ratio and can offer many other benefits such as corrosion resistance, electrical insulation and frangibility.

JEC Composites Magazine: What advantages do composite materials offer over the original materials?
Francesco Ierullo: Composite alternatives offer many advantages over traditionally used materials, like steel or aluminium. Composites boast a better strength-to-weight ratio and can offer many other benefits such as corrosion resistance, electrical insulation and frangibility.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of using composites is the design freedom they can offer. The ability to tailor resin and fibre options to meet unique customer demands allows us to develop solutions that no other material could provide. That’s why I think it is really important that we expose engineering students to composite materials during their studies. Mechanical engineering students like myself might have come across composites in some areas of their studies, but it is not often they have the chance to work with them as undergraduates. For me, I think bringing this concept to students like the Dynamis racing team is valuable for the future of materials technology.

JEC Composites Magazine: Were the improvements made felt on the racetrack?
Francesco Ierullo: Dynamis reported that they could feel the difference right away. The car was significantly lighter, and the composite parts meant it could tolerate more force. The car’s driving column needed to resist three times the peak load, which was 100 newton metres (Nm). Using Exel’s carbon fibre, this was pushed to 140 Nm and the material was still functional, unlike other metals that would snap.
But the Formula SAE is as much about design engineering as it is about winning a pole position. Dynamis wanted to win, but they also wanted to learn. As well as gaining better racing results, the car’s new suspension system was also recognized by winning an innovation prize awarded by the event’s organizers.

As well as gaining better racing results, the car’s new suspension system was also recognized by winning an innovation prize awarded by the event’s organizers.

As well as gaining better racing results, the car’s new suspension system was also recognized by winning an innovation prize awarded by the event’s organizers.

JEC Composites Magazine: Did the solutions put in place by Exel Composites in the racing field inspire innovations in other application sectors such as construction, wind power or transportation?
Francesco Ierullo: Composite tubes have applications across a variety of industries. For example, applications such as cleaning and maintenance can benefit from lightweight, telescoping composite tubes for equipment such as window cleaning and tree pruning poles. Elsewhere, tubes can be used for a number of leisure activities such as sporting goods. One of our customers also uses our tubes in camera tripods to provide a sturdy solution that is not too heavy for photographers to transport around on photoshoots.
In fact, composite tubes can replace traditional metal tubes in any application that requires a light and precise solution. Some aircraft components, airport lighting masts, telecommunications poles and low-inertia robotic arms are just some of many applications that can make use of composite tubes.

JEC Composites Magazine: In conclusion, do you have any other upcoming projects in Formula E or in other fields?
Francesco Ierullo: Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions meant that the Dynamis team could not race in 2020. However, we have already been helping them to improve their car even further and prepare them for 2021. Always wanting to improve, they have plans to make the car even lighter. We have already sent them our Crosslite tubes, which have a thinner inner diameter and crosswise carbon fibres to achieve higher strength at a lighter weight. Already, the team has informed us that these new solutions are making improvements.

More information www.exelcomposites.com
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