Carbon fiber has been in use for many years in the automotive industry in the name of performance, but Ford is trying to bring this lightweight material to the masses in the name of fuel economy. As a part of the German-funded Hightech.NRW project that began in 2010, Ford and Dow Automotive Systems have been trying to come up with a way to make carbon fiber feasible for everyday cars.
To demonstrate how important carbon fiber could be in non-performance-car applications, Ford installed a carbon fiber reinforced plastic hood on the Focus wagon shown above. Ford says carbon fiber is five times stronger than steel yet is just one-third the weight. This prototype hood weighs about half of what a conventional steel hood would weigh, and it still passes all of the safety needs required from a vehicle including dent resistance, pedestrian protection and during frontal crashes. Scroll down for Ford's press release..
CFRP parts are apparently more time consuming to paint, so the project is also trying to find a faster way to finish the parts while keeping the same quality standards in place for steel components.
CFRP is an ideal material to use on hybrids and EVs, but Ford also has a plan to reduce the weight of its vehicles by about 750 pounds each by the end of the decade. Currently, resources and production methods make carbon fiber an expensive material, so the biggest test will be getting these costs down to make it economical for use in a sub-$20,000 car. There's no word how much this prototype hood cost Ford to produce, but in a day where automakers are trying to squeeze every last pound out of a car's curb weight, carbon fiber could become a very important material in future vehicles.
Ford Develops Carbon Fibre Technology that Could Deliver More Fuel-Efficient Vehicles
-Ford Motor Company demonstrates a prototype carbon fibre bonnet that could cut vehicle weight and improve fuel economy
-Ford Focus carbon fibre prototype bonnet weighs more than 50 percent less than steel version with production times significantly reduced by new processes that can also be applied to other components
-Ford European Research Centre involvement in the Hightech.NRW research project follows Ford partnership with Dow Automotive Systems to research advanced material usage, development and manufacturing
-Carbon fibre reinforced plastic component is manufactured using new techniques developed as part of advanced research project involving Ford engineers
Ford Develops Carbon Fibre Technology
DUSSELDORF, Germany, Oct. 9, 2012 – Ford Motor Company today demonstrated a prototype carbon fibre bonnet that could help lower fuel consumption for Ford customers.
The carbon fibre reinforced plastic Ford Focus bonnet displayed at the Composites Europe event in Dusseldorf, Germany is constructed from the super-strong material usually associated with bespoke racing vehicles or high-performance sports cars.
The prototype bonnet weighs more than 50 percent less than a standard steel version. As a result of progress made during an on-going research project involving engineers from the Ford European Research Centre, production time for an individual carbon fibre bonnet is fast enough to be employed on a production line – a significant step towards increased usage of lightweight materials in Ford vehicles.
"It's no secret that reducing a vehicle's weight can deliver major benefits for fuel consumption, but a process for fast and affordable production of carbon fibre automotive parts in large numbers has never been available," said Inga Wehmeyer, advanced materials and processes research engineer, Ford European Research Centre. "By partnering with materials experts through the Hightech.NRW research project, Ford is working to develop a solution that supports cost efficient manufacturing of carbon fibre components."
The involvement of Ford European Research Centre in the Hightech.NRW research project follows Ford's partnership with Dow Automotive Systems; a collaboration announced earlier this year that will investigate new materials, design processes and manufacturing techniques.
Dow Automotive Systems and Ford will focus on establishing an economical source of automotive-grade carbon fibre, as well as high-volume manufacturing methods: both critical to increasing the range of future Ford battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
Carbon fibre offers a very high strength-to-weight ratio. It is up to five times as strong as steel, twice as stiff, and one-third the weight. Advanced materials such as carbon fibre are key to Ford's plans to reduce the weight of its cars by up to 340kg by the end of the decade.
"There are two ways to reduce energy use in vehicles: improving the conversion efficiency of fuels to motion and reducing the amount of work that powertrains need to do," said Paul Mascarenas, Ford chief technical officer and vice president, Research and Innovation. "Ford is tackling the conversion problem primarily through downsizing engines with EcoBoost and electrification while mass reduction and improved aerodynamics are keys to reducing the workload."
Ford has partnered with specialists from the Institute of Automotive Engineering at RWTH Aachen University, Henkel, Evonik, IKV (Institute of Plastics Processing), Composite Impulse and Toho Tenax for the course of the Hightech.NRW research project.
Funded by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the project began in 2010 and, despite being set to continue until September 2013, has already made significant progress towards its targets of:
Developing a cost effective method to manufacture carbon fibre composites for body panel applications that can be incorporated into existing vehicle production processes
Significantly reducing individual component production times
Reducing the amount of finishing work required to acceptable standards
Meeting requirements for painting
At least 50 percent reduction in component weight
The refined gap-impregnation process works by introducing resin to pre-formed carbon fibre textile material in a fast, stable and adaptable manner, with high quality results.
Initial testing suggests that CFRP components such as the prototype Ford Focus bonnet will meet Ford's high standards for stiffness, dent resistance and crash performance. The component has also performed well in pedestrian protection head-impact tests, thanks to its innovative construction of a special foam core sandwiched between two layers of CFRP.
"Customers of Ford's multi-million selling passenger cars should not expect to see carbon fibre-bodied examples on sale in the near future," said Inga Wehmeyer. "But the techniques we have refined and developed for the prototype Focus bonnet could be transferred to higher volume applications at a later date."