Friday, May 16, 2014

News: AMP firms race ahead with biocomposites

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Companies on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) in Rotherham that are researching the use of biocomposites are attracting the interest of automotive clients interested in making bodywork panels for cars from materials such as hemp and cashew nut resin.

The £100,000 ELCOMAP (Environmentally friendly lightweight composite materials for aerodynamic body panels) project has been researching the potential alternatives to composite technologies currently in use such as carbon fibre and epoxy resin systems.

The technology has the potential to replace some or all of these raw materials with sustainable carbon-neutral alternatives that can significantly improve the environmental performance of composites manufacturing and revolutionise the production of low volume specialist components for high performance vehicles.

Project partners include Performance Engineered Solutions (PES) Ltd, TEKS UK Ltd and the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing.

Instead of working to create flat fascia panels, the team set themselves the challenge of creating a rear bonnet/boot from a Porsche racecar. The original steel part was measured using a 3D optical scanner, a layup and assembly drawings were created and special tools were designed for manufacturing prototype carbon fibre moulds.

The companies used the clean room, large oven and autoclave in the AMRC Composite Centre to produce the prototype parts, and also drew on the expertise of the research group.

After successfully producing two Porsche panels, the team challenged themselves further by making a larger and more complex Subaru front end.

The panels were finished using conventional automotive painting and lacquering. After initial laboratory testing, the parts were subjected to a real-life challenge – the Porsche panels were fixed to a car and trialled on the Serre Chevalier race circuit at speeds of over 100mph. The panels performed just as well as the steel original even though the final Porsche part weighed 3.9kg compared to the 10.4kg weight of the original steel part.

Teks has showcased the biocomposite concept to partners in the motorsport community, especially in the rally sport sector. Roland Krain, general manager at Teks, said: "Our rally clients are very interested in using high performance renewable materials for a greener more sustainable motorsport, paving the way for a wider greener automotive future."
TEKS and PES are now talking to a number of automotive clients of different sizes to provide pre-series structural panels for extensive life cycle testing.

A state-of-the-art facility allows the AMRC Composite Centre to provide a full range of design, manufacturing, assembly and structural testing services for advanced composite materials. It has enabled the two companies to draw on the resources and expertise they needed to demonstrate the benefits of biocomposites for this niche market.

Dan Fleetcroft, engineering design director at PES, said: "For a company of our size, it'd be very difficult to pull all the resources together in one environment to make it viable to carry out this kind of research project.

"To drive new technologies and innovation into the market takes collaboration, knowledge and investment. The AMRC is at the forefront of developing new manufacturing technologies, so we become aware of them more readily than through trying to read all the journals and research papers."

PES Ltd website
Teks website
AMRC website

Images: AMRC

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