Building Composite Parts For The Automotive World


Building Composite Parts For The Automotive World

Current manufacturing techniques at Automated Dynamics (ADC) were specifically developed to overcome the limitations of traditional materials and enable new capabilities for critical parts. Within the automotive sector, many of these parts are already being converted to lightweight fiber-reinforced composites, gaining significant performance benefits while also reducing weight. ADC is bringing these advantages of automotive composites to a whole new level. With industry-leading expertise in the automated additive manufacturing of thermoplastic composites, we are working with leading manufacturers to create parts for real-world applications that also allow for scalable processing. 

Using Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) technology and ADC know-how, we are creating recyclable parts with the lightest weight, greatest fatigue resistance, highest vibration dampening, and best damage tolerance available; to name just a few advantages. By entering the automotive market, ADC expects to demonstrate that high-performance parts can be realized with the high throughput manufacturing often required by a high volume industry. Moreover, ADC will enable residual advantages for the: 

  • Environment – parts are recyclable and decrease fuel usage
  • Consumer – improved mileage and performance
  • OEMs – continuous/high throughput manufacturing with new features and material options 

Recently, we published an article with an overview of the market and the advantages that composites bring with them. Following, we’ve compiled a few specific examples where thermoplastic composites (TPC) can surpass the performance benefits of even state-of-the-art metal and thermoset composite (TSC) parts in automotive applications. 

Leaf Springs

Thermoset composite leaf springs are proven performers with high unsprung weight savings, but ADC has developed thermoplastic composite springs through a unique manufacturing process that provides:

  • High speed/throughput production via continuous high speed layup & staggered consolidation
  • Lowest attainable weight by only placing fibers along load paths
  • Greatest impact and fatigue performance over a broad temperature range
  • Allowance for overwrapping metal attachment fittings

An initial project where this advancement would bring the greatest benefit is for rear springs of light trucks. This can be attributed to the much higher specific flex energy and response rate that TPC springs are able to store in comparison to steel. Additional benefits include:

  • Benteler-SGL estimates 65% weight savings for a light cargo van spring.
  • TPC truck springs could save 70 lbs/truck.
  • TPC Automated Fiber Placement enables the replacement of multi-leaf springs with a single leaf greatly reducing costs.
  • A transverse spring may eliminate the need for an anti-roll bar. 

Advanced Composite Driveshafts

Helicopter driveshafts manufactured by ADC have demonstrated attributes relevant to automotive applications including:

  • Composite overwrapping of metal end fittings with load path-oriented fibers
    • Provides the highest attainable strength to weight ratio for the part
  • Higher flexural resonant frequency possible with composites allows a one-piece shaft to replace two short shafts and a center universal-joint
    • Lowers part count and complexity and increases design flexibility
  • Greater torsional stiffness and higher damping of composite vs. steel or aluminum reduce driveline shock and improves NVH
    • In this regard, TPC are exceptionally superior, even to TSC.
  • Reduced weight and resistance to corrosion and impact damage
    • These properties can be tailored with a greater temperature range for TPC parts.
  • Opportunity to engineer ‘benign failure’ for a fracture-causing event
    • This is especially useful during a high speed or high load impact, for example. 

Carbon-Fiber Composite Wheels

Drastic weight savings of as much as 45% have been seen in industry prototypes, and major automotive manufacturers are keen to evaluate these options as they continue to push for the development of composite wheels. Improved handling and ride characteristics have been reported recently for thermoset composite wheels, and, within the past year, testing of these prototypes on high end vehicles demonstrated reduced rotational inertia of over 40%, which improves acceleration and braking performance.

Using TPC technology, Automated Dynamics has the capabilities to develop a wheel with performance characteristics superior to those mentioned above, bringing improvements to key attributes such as the damage tolerance and response from common events like potholes, curbs, and accidents. This is just one area where TPC components significantly outperform TSC components.

ADC also expects to satisfy critical commercial issues for wheels including customization and scalability via use of TPC and AFP technology. Thermoplastics provide a wide range of material choices to address the various environmental, integration, and commercial requirements that can be quite restrictive. Meanwhile, AFP brings dramatic improvements to scalability through automation, which will enable eventual use of this product in vehicles from the highest performing to the most affordable. 

Recently, Automated Dynamics has begun development of a thermoplastic wheel for this very type of use. Initial prototypes will be designed for testing key factors including mechanical and performance characteristics, chemical/environmental resistance and other industry-relevant attributes. Following prototype testing will be (test track) vehicle testing with OEM partners and a pre-production process scale-up demonstration. 

The proposed project activities include the design, development, fabrication and testing of several iterations of the part. Close collaboration between Tier 1 automotive suppliers and ADC will ensure a successful outcome. Each partner brings industry-leading expertise and experience. Design, development and fabrication activities will be completed by Automated Dynamics at our industrial manufacturing facilities in Niskayuna, NY. 

For more information on our work with Automotive clients, contact:

Reid Hislop, Business Development Manager

518.377.6471 ext.275| Email Reid