In line with the tightening of fuel efficiency regulations and carbon dioxide emission controls, interest in vehicle weight reduction has been growing in the automotive market and carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) that combines light weight with high strength is expected to find diverse application in automotive components. However, the scope of application of CFRP has traditionally been limited to luxury and super cars that are produced in limited quantities because production of CFRP-made components takes time and results in high costs. In recent years, however, development of materials and production methods for CFRP has been advanced, and automakers are stepping up full-scale adoption of CFRP components for their mass-production vehicles as well.
|Rear door frame of the new Prius plug-in hybrid vehicle features an all CFRP construction.|
SMC developed by Mitsubishi Rayon (MRC) is a type of intermediate material for CFRPs and a sheet-shaped material in which carbon fibers cut into several-centimeter lengths are dispersed in resin. The SMC can be processed into components in a short period of time, roughly 2–5 minutes, by press molding. In contrast to prepregs (uncut carbon fiber fabric impregnated with resin), this SMC features high formability for molding complicated shaped parts. It also exhibits close-to-uniform mechanical properties. This allows engineers to readily use the carbon fiber material by utilizing existing parts design know-how and achieve lighter components with higher strength.
Under the Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Group’s APTSIS 20 Medium-Term Management Plan, which aims for achieving sales of JPY100 billion ($898 million) from the carbon fiber and composite material business in 2020, MRC plans to actively expand its operations targeting fast-growing automotive applications and other industrial areas.
In other CFRP developments, in March, MRC acquired U.S. Gemini Composites LLC (Seattle, WA), the design, engineering and prototyping firm specialized in product development using Forged Composite technology. Mitsubishi Rayon Carbon Fiber and Composites, Inc. (MRCFCAC; Irvine, CA), MRC’s wholly owned subsidiary, acquired all the shares of Gemini currently owned by its founder and made the firm a subsidiary of it effective March 1, 2017.
"We are thrilled to add Gemini to our portfolio of highly specialized businesses, and welcome the talented group of associates to the Mitsubishi Rayon team," said Akira Nakagoshi, General Manager of Carbon Fiber and Composites of Mitsubishi Rayon (Tokyo, Japan) and Member of the Board of MRCFCAC. "The Gemini team will greatly enhance the capability of MRC to develop engineered solutions for our customers, and to assist them from initial concept all the way to start-of-production using our carbon fiber SMCs. Gemini adds a strategic growth platform to our organization with its breakthrough approach to product development, as in the case of the award-winning Union FC snowboard binding.”
“Once we laid out the background know-how of design and engineering with discontinuous carbon fibers with Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration, we saw the opportunity to expand the Forged Composite technology to other products and markets”, said Dr. Paolo Feraboli, founder and CEO of Gemini. “That’s how Gemini started developing innovative aerospace, automotive and sporting products, resulting in numerous patents for our customers worldwide.”
MRC is today the world’s largest manufacturer and supplier of carbon fiber SMC, which is the base material used in Forged Composite technology. The company has been proactively conducting CF-SMC marketing to car manufacturers in Japan, Germany, and North America since it established its new SMC production line in 2015 at its Toyohashi Production Center in Aichi Prefecture. MRC believes that the said acquisition will further enhance its product development capability for automotive SMC components and enable development of innovative products based on a component design-driven approach.