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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

6th July 2018, UK

Composites Europe 2018: An interface between metals and composites

At the beginning of July, BMW has commenced series production of its new 8 Series Coupé at its plant in Dingolfing, Germany, following a ‘low three-digit-million euro’ investment in new technology.

BMW 7 Series sedans are already manufactured at Dingolfing and the body of the new BMW 8, like the BMW 7, will again have a lightweight construction based on a mix of materials, including steel, plastic and aluminium, in addition to carbon fibre composites.

Hybrids

This underlines the fact that despite the hopes of the carbon composites industry, the requirements of modern lightweight construction can no longer be met by single materials and that optimum solutions can only be achieved with hybrids.

BMW 8-series coupe. © BMW

In Germany the role of carbon fibre reinforced plastics (CFRP) in automotive has been – and continues to be – a hotly debated subject.

In a panel discussion at the 3rd International Composites Congress (ICC) held in Stuttgart last September, for example, representatives from Audi, Daimler and Volvo, among others, expressed doubt about the practicality of adopting CFRPs for the structural body parts of series-produced vehicles in the first place. The main obstacles were said to be that automotive is such a cost-focused industry and also that it has partnered with the steel industry for many decades.

Massive investment

“We have the lightest steels and they continue to improve and there are established industry-wide standards for them,” said Per Martensson, Volvo’s technical expert in composites structures. “Certainly, a one-material car such as that based on CFRP would be the lightest, but you have to plan for hundreds of thousands of cars a year. To introduce CFRP into the area of bodies we would have to make massive investments all over the world. The existing supply chain is based on metals and to suddenly take that out would just be throwing billions of dollars into the ocean. Ultimately, carbon can provide the light weight but on its own, is not cost effective.”

Mass traction

At Go Carbon Fibre in Munich last October, it was also emphasised that carbon fibre is still too expensive to be used extensively in its pure form, and that this has resulted in a stumbling block for the BMW i electric car programme – the vehicles have proved simply too expensive to gain mass traction.

BMW showroom at the Landshut plant. © BMW

Nevertheless, the latest BMW 7 Series vehicles still feature around 16 carbon composite components and BMW’s commitment to the composites industry has been cemented with the formation of its new Centre for Lightweight Design, established at the Landshut plant in 2016.

In addition to the supporting structures at the front and rear of the 8 Series Coupé, however, other components, such as the roof, doors, bonnet and the front firewall are being made of aluminium. At the same time – for the first time in a series-production BMW model – the roof is being made available in CFRP. The roof is being manufactured at the Dingolfing location in a proprietary wet-pressing process.

Interface

As will be apparent at the forthcoming Composites Europe show to be held in Stuttgart this November – with the ‘Lightweight Technologies Forum’ taking place in parallel – weight reduction remains the critical driver across many sectors where composites are employed – from the automotive, aerospace, mechanical engineering and wind power industries to infrastructure, medical technology and the sports and leisure sector.

The third Lightweight Technologies Forum at Composites Europe will explore how application sectors of integrated and hybrid lightweight construction can be brought together. The combined exhibition and lecture forum will serve as a cross-material interface between metal and fibre composite technologies in structural components.

Funding

There can be little doubt that Germany leads the field in this area – the Federal Ministry of Economics established its Lightweight Construction Initiative last year and its interactive portal now allows organisations to present their processes and activities and search companies and research institutions for tailor-made lightweight construction expertise. The government’s funding catalogue now lists more than 1,000 lightweight construction projects.

Composites Europe will highlight the many technological advances in the process chain that are pushing the development of efficient lightweight construction solutions. © Composites Europe

The universities are just as active – the research department for lightweight construction at the Landshut University of Applied Sciences, for example, has just received €650,000 in funding, while the Sachsen Lightweight Alliance is bringing together the technical universities of Dresden, Freiberg and Chemnitz with funding from the Saxon Ministry of Science.

Composites Europe in Stuttgart from November 6-8 will highlight the many technological advances in the process chain that are pushing the development of efficient lightweight construction solutions and their implementation in high-volume production.

The exhibition will feature more than 400 exhibitors from 30 countries, with numerous event areas, lecture forums, themed guided tours and workshops held alongside it.

www.composites-europe.com

www.lite-forum.com

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