New composites to replace carbon fibre?

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Words: NZ Autocar
14 May 2020

Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE) is using its Formula E experience to focus on lightweighting and electrification in the automotive industry and it has led to a breakthrough in the production of affordable composites.

Its new cost-effective process could supplant carbon fibre and incentivise lightweighting in the car industry.

Creating carbon or composite parts is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, but the new procedure developed by WAE means parts of similar strength and weight to traditional composites can be made more quickly and for less cost. The upshot is that car makers could produce parts weighing half as much for the same amount they currently pay.

According to New Atlas, the WAE system involves lightweight press composites. Instead of hand-laying and autoclaving that are required for carbon fibre, this new process utilises pressure and heating. Craig Wilson of WAE reckons cycle times are “around 90 seconds”. The materials are cured and pressed in the mould at a preset temperature.

The secret is the resin that was co-developed with a major manufacturer. Wilson says this is essentially a processing innovation.

In terms of strength the composite compares well with carbon fibre, Wilson saying “you can tune the fiber content that you need in the process”, meaning higher strength levels are possible in targeted parts of a component depending on where the stresses are highest.

WAE’s goal was to be equivalent to modern day manufacturing procedures for cost, but result in components half the weight.

This will have advantages for another of WAE's projects, the Hyperbat factory, which is developing and manufacturing high-power, lightweight electric powertrains for the likes of Aston Martin and others.

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