Cooperation will advance the use of fiber-reinforced composites in the automotive industry
Nearly 250 trade visitors participated in the second Automotive Forum hosted by the German Carbon Composites Association (Carbon Composites e.V., CCeV) held at the Audi forum of Ingolstadt on June 30, 2011. Key topics discussed at the symposium included concepts, materials, pre-products and process technologies related to the design and manufacture of automobiles using carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) composites. Heinrich Timm of the hosting company Audi AG summarized the event by stating: "The future of carbon composites relies on visionary designs such as BMW's Megacity Vehicle or the VW XL1."
In his opening speech, CCeV chairman and SGL Carbon CEO, Dr. Reinhard Janta, emphasized the fact that the success of the CCeV initiative MAI Carbon in the national Spitzencluster-Wettbewerb (German Leading-Edge Cluster Competition) will undoubtedly inspire businesses in the region around Munich, Augsburg and Ingolstadt notably in terms of a German center for the use of fiber-reinforced composites in the automotive industry. Consequently, both BMW and Volkswagen/Audi introduced the expert audience to their respective designs Megacity Vehicle and XL1, presenting the two projects for discussion. Both vehicles use a hybrid design consisting of steel, aluminum and CFRP, with the CFRP components primarily aiding to compensate for the excess weight induced by the batteries of electric cars. Due to its continued high cost, CFRP currently accounts for the lowest percentage amongst materials, with around 40 % used in the Megacity Vehicle and just over 20 % in the VW XL 1.
Hybrid design was also the focal point in the address of Professor Horst E. Friedrich, Institute of Vehicle Concepts (FK) of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V., DLR). His institute has developed a simulation tool enabling the illustration of the future fleet composition in the automobile industry. Professor Friedrich: "Multiple scenarios indicate that alternatively powered vehicles are certain to gain an increasingly growing amount of market share. While these vehicles unlike conventionally powered cars place new requirements on vehicle architecture, they also offer new design freedom."
According to Professor Friedrich, the future of car manufacturing will be characterized by Purpose Design - custom-designed vehicle concepts for the use of alternative fuels. His "Stuttgart model" uses a so-called "spant-space-frame" construction comprising a high CFRP content multi-material design.
SGL Group's Jürgen Köhler addressed the topic of CFRP integration from an economical point of view, assessing the automotive sector as prospective principal customer for this high-performance fiber-reinforced construction. Still, investments in new manufacturing plants of $300 million per year are only feasible if manufacturers and customers play ball. SGL's joint venture with BMW wants to set a precedent in applying this approach.
Suppliers to the automotive industry are taking first measures to advance the use of CFRP in serial production processes. In a joint speech, Hanno Pfitzer of BMW AG and Franz-Jürgen Kümpers of SGL Kümpers outlined the enormous automation potential of integrating CFRP components with the ultimate objective of increasing the current use of three components per hour to five or even ten units.
The presentation was supported by Nicolai Speker of Trumpf GmbH promoting the use of laser in processing CFRP components, and Thomas Hoppe of Weiss Automotive who presented various models to highlight his varnishing concepts for these components.
Speakers and their expert audience at the Automotive Forum unanimously agreed that CFRP processing in serial production along with lower costs for carbon composites can only be achieved through close cooperation of all parties involved in the usage of CFRP. Hubert Jäger, head of SGL Group's R&D, offered an inspiring idea by suggesting a joint initiative for the standardization of the requirements for high-performance fiber-reinforced composites, possibly under the direction of the CCeV.
The next CCeV Automotive Forum will be held on June 27-28, 2012 at the BMW Welt in Munich, Germany.
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