The automotive industry is undergoing significant changes. In addition to connection online, self-driving and the challenges of electrification, great demands are being made on sustainability in a holistic perspective even in the automotive industry. RISE is now setting up a new test bed for the production of sustainable composites for the development of new materials, systems and components for future vehicles.
The demand for hybrid and electric cars is substantial, while other car sales are falling. Nevertheless, there is great potential for the electric car industry.
“One weakness of electric cars is the weight. Heavy cars consume more electricity and range is an important factor for the consumer. Soon traditional materials cannot become lighter without compromising other important characteristics. Therefore, interest is turning towards fibre composite,” says David Mattsson, head of division RISE.
Fibre composite creates endless possibilities
Fibre composites are not like other materials as the solution for each product is unique. In addition to extremely lightweight, fibre composite creates endless possibilities. When design, choice of materials and manufacturing techniques are tailored and optimised for each product, results can be achieved that few other materials can match. In addition, with the latest research in biomaterials, the fibre composite can be made eco-friendly and renewable.
Advanced composite materials have long been used in aerospace and boat industries to name but a few, where demands on both a lightweight and strength are key. However, the production of composite materials is still costly and the technology for producing large volumes has not existed.
“If the production of composite materials had had a different cost structure, operators in the automotive industry would have started research, testing and the use of composite materials a long time ago. The benefits are considerable. An increased degree of automation and the development of faster manufacturing processes is a prerequisite in order for composite components to be used to a greater extent in vehicles,” explains David Mattsson.
RISE sets up a new test bed
Together with Piteå Science Park, RISE is now setting up a new test bed for the production of sustainable composite materials in Piteå. Utilising automation and advanced production technology in composite production means that the hourly costs for manual work, which are nevertheless required, have less impact on the total cost.
“Knowledge and conditions already exist. We now need to establish the processes and the right infrastructure,” says David Mattsson.
Interest in the new test bed is vast and some of the companies that have already shown an interest in the plant are Scania, Volvo Cars, Gestamp Hardtech, CEVT and Siemens. Other industries that are looking into composite production for larger volumes, such as the furniture industry, will also be able to use the test bed.
Opens up new opportunities
For traditional materials, the product design process is very linear because the material properties and manufacturing processes are fixed. For composite materials with much greater flexibility in properties and manufacturing processes, the product development process is more about feedback. It is not a material with set properties. You choose the properties and design your material, your process and product at the same time.
“Composite gives endless possibilities and because you do not need, for example, an engine that is connected to an exhaust system, cars may look completely different in the future compared to today,” concludes David Mattsson.
What is a composite material?
Composite is a material that consists of at least two different materials that are combined to create a material with better characteristics than the individual components. High-performance composites usually consist of long continuous fibres (reinforcement) of carbon or glass embedded in a polymer matrix. Long fibres that are oriented in the principle load direction offer the most efficient load transfer.
Unique to composites is that the material and product are created simultaneously in the manufacturing process. Therefore the many possible combinations of materials and production technology offer great freedom in the design of end products with the opportunity to fully integrate new functions and where the benefits for selected properties such as lightweight, strength, stiffness and good durability can be maximised.