Monday, 15 October 2012 16:18

Ford Motor Company shows off a prototype carbon fiber reinforced plastic Focus hood

Last month Autobody News reported on an undisclosed automaker developing carbon fiber body panels at a Western Michigan factory owned by Plasan Sasa Carbon Composites to be used on a mid-volume production vehicle in 2013.

To read that post go HERE. Carbon fiber is the super-strong material usually associated with racing vehicles or high-performance sports cars.

At present we don’t know precisely which manufacturer is involved in the Michigan production facility but Ford Motor Co. has just exhibited a carbon fiber reinforced plastic Ford Focus hood at the Composites Europe event in Dusseldorf, Germany.

The prototype hood 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 fiber hood 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 fiber 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 fiber 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 fiber, 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 fiber 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 fiber 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.

The refined gap-impregnation process works by introducing resin to pre-formed carbon fiber 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 hood 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 fiber-bodied examples on sale in the near future," said Inga Wehmeyer. "But the techniques we have refined and developed for the prototype Focus hood could be transferred to higher volume applications at a later date."

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