Once the realm of only the most exotic, and most expensive supercars, carbon fibre is more widely used now than ever before, across manufacturing sectors outside traditional industries.
The material used widely in planes, rockets and those aforementioned expensive sportscars, still hasn’t been broadly available though. Now, Nissan has come up with a process that might see it appear on more mass-market cars.
Given the inherent strength and light weight of carbon fibre reinforced plastics or CFRP, it makes sense to adopt it into broader-based automotive manufacture, cost and time permitting.
The new process speeds up the development of car parts made from CFRP, and according to Nissan, can be used to build cars that are safer and more efficient. The aviation industry has proved that with weight reduction, comes dramatically improved efficiency.
CFRP can also help to lower a vehicle’s centre of gravity when used for upper body parts, such as roof structures, which Nissan reckons can make the vehicle more agile and exciting to drive. It’s why supercars have been using CFRP for as long as they have been (such as the Audi R8 panel pictured below).
Nissan’s aim is to use the new process to mass produce CFRP parts and bring them into play for more vehicles for more customers. Cutting lead time in development specifically, by as much as half, the new process also cuts cycle time for molding by nearly 80 percent compared with the traditional methods.
No-one has ever doubted the strength and lightness of CFRP, and everything from bicycles to motorcycles have benefitted from the advancing technology, but it’s always been prohibitively expensive and time consuming to produce. That has made it unattainable for the more budget-focused mass market and meant the continuation of the use of steel and alloys for the most part.
Carbon fibre has been used extensively in Formula One but could soon makes its way onto certain Nissan models.
Nissan’s new approach is called ‘compression resin transfer molding’. The current method involves forming carbon fibre into the desired shape and setting it in a die with a slight gap between the upper die and the carbon fibres. Resin is then injected into the fibre and left to harden.
Nissan’s engineers have developed techniques that accurately simulate the permeability of the resin in carbon fibre, while visualising resin flow behaviour in a die using an in-die temperature sensors and a transparent die in order to watch closely as the process was taking place. According to Nissan, the end result is a high-quality component with shorter development time.
There’s obviously a fair bit of engineering technicality to this new process and it’s easy to get lost in the details, but the benefit for us as consumers if Nissan can bring this process to market is broad. A lower centre of gravity is advantageous for just about any vehicle, not just sportscars. Lighter vehicles are invariably more efficient, but they also reduce the effects of weight-based wear and tear on components like brakes, tyres and the structure of the vehicle itself. The added benefit is that any component is way cooler and brag-worthy in carbon fibre than steel or aluminium.
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