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Talking Heads

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with movers and shakers

29th October 2018, Stamford, CT

Double-digit growth in the project pipeline

Inside Composites meets Achim Fischereder, Director of Automotive Sales and Marketing at Hexcel.

Please provide our readers with an overview of Hexcel’s products and services to the automotive sector.

Achim Fischereder: Hexcel is a leading supplier of advanced composite materials ranging from carbon fibres and different kinds of reinforcements to prepregs and structural film adhesives. We add further value for our customers by providing ready-to-use net shape preforms, which can be effectively implemented into high volume production processes.

Achim Fischereder, Director of Automotive Sales and Marketing at Hexcel. © Hexcel

In addition to our product range we support our customers from the part design stage through to the definition of a serial process layout. This is an area we see as very critical for ensuring the implementation of composite solutions on time and on cost. Typical examples of our services here are part and process simulation, advanced testing methods and access to our excellent network of technology partners in tooling and line integration. 

What percentage of Hexcel’s sales are achieved through sales to the automotive industry, and how did this translate in dollar terms in 2017?

AF: To put this into perspective, it has to be noted that Hexcel is a $2 billion company, with the majority of its sales in the aerospace business. The automotive unit is grouped under the Industrial business unit, which has a turnover of close to $300 million. 

What kind of growth do you anticipate in this field, and where will it be achieved?

AF: We are expecting double-digit growth year on year based just on the existing project pipeline. This growth is sustained by our strong position in the high performance car market, as well as through a growing number of projects in the mid-to-high volume car segment.

Typical growth products are carbon non-crimp fibre-based materials for structural applications and heavy weight glass prepregs for composite leaf springs, as well as glass/carbon prepreg stacks.

Hexcel is a leading supplier of advanced composite materials ranging from carbon fibres and different kinds of reinforcements to prepregs and structural film adhesives. © Hexcel

Where do thermoplastics have advantages over thermosets and vice-versa?

AF: Thermosets are clearly the product of choice when it comes down to structural performance, high fatigue resistance and superior surface quality – the areas of focus for Hexcel in the automotive sector.

In terms of cycle times for the production of structural components, the latest generations of thermoset prepregs are at the same level as thermoplastics, allowing cycle times around the one minute mark.

By contrast, thermoplastics and related processes like injection moulding make it easier to realise functional integration in respect of items such as fasteners and clips. We recognise this advantage and we are exploring options for using thermosets as structural components with thermoplastics to provide the design flexibility.

Similarly, what are the respective pros and cons of carbon and glass fibre-based products?

AF: Here it is very important to look beyond typical data sheet values, as they are not fully representative of the final application requirements, and to consider the overall business case.

Carbon fibre-based products have a clear advantage when stiffness is the driving parameter for part design. Achieving a viable business case, however, is more challenging, due to the higher fibre price compared to glass fibre.

When designers are looking for high energy absorption – critical for crash driven applications – or excellent fatigue performance, glass fiber based products can actually be the better choice.

As an example, glass fibre has a significantly higher elongation to break, which allows glass fibre-based components to absorb more energy during high speed impacts compared to carbon fibre.

In my opinion, the market has not yet fully explored the opportunities that arise from the combination of carbon and glass to yield the best part properties at the lowest possible costs.

Aventador SVJ super sports car. © Hexcel/Lamborghini

Can you provide an example or two of recent success stories?

AF: In 2017 we won a large contract to supply carbon non-crimp fibre (C-NCF) to Mubea Carbo for technology linked to a new high performance car. In response to this, we invested in a new 2.54-metre-wide C-NCF line at our plant in Leicester, UK This capability is critical for us to further extend our market share for non-crimp fabrics.

Just recently, Lamborghini has launched the new Aventador SVJ super sports car, which is using C-NCF extensively, as well as visible carbon fibre and class-A material solutions from Hexcel. At the moment it is the fastest series production car ever to be tested on the Nürburgring-Nordscheife circuit in Germany and Hexcel is really proud to be contributing to this success.

What challenges and opportunities do you anticipate as the auto industry moves away from the combustion engine towards alternatives, and ultimately autonomous vehicles?

AF: I strongly believe that these trends – electrification and autonomous driving – will facilitate the implementation of further composite solutions in the automotive industry. At first glance this might not seem obvious, since emission problems are almost eliminated by electric cars, but the implementation of batteries will lead to new challenges in terms of their protection, weight management to reduce battery size and costs and even thermal management – all areas where composites can provide effective solutions. The same is true for autonomous driving – composites will allow designers to adapt more effectively to the new changing customer expectations and needs. When I am no longer behind the steering wheel my expectations from a car will change completely.

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