Ford accelerates carbon fiber research for auto applications


Ford and DowAksa are accelerating joint research to develop high-volume manufacturing techniques for automotive-grade carbon fiber. The companies will be part of the newly formed Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, created by the U.S. government. DowAksa is a joint venture of Dow Chemical (Midland, MI) , and Turkish acrylic fiber manufacturer Aksa (Beyoğlu).

"Our collaboration with DowAksa and participation in this organization significantly boosts what we are able to achieve," said Ken Washington, Ford vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering at the North American International Auto Show 2015 in  Detroit. "We have a true alliance of highly talented people working to take automotive materials to the next level."

Carbon fiber composites were employed in Ford's Lightweight Concept Fusion, lowering its weight to that on a par with a Ford Fiesta.

The mission of the institute and the goal of Ford's collaboration with DowAksa is to overcome the high cost and limited availability of carbon fiber, while developing a viable, high-volume manufacturing process. Ford and Dow Chemical began working together in 2012 to develop low-cost, high-volume carbon fiber composites.

"This opportunity builds upon Ford's current joint development agreement with Dow Chemical and accelerates our time line to introduce carbon fiber composites into high-volume applications," said Jim deVries, Ford global manager, Materials and Manufacturing Research. "This collaboration helps us accelerate our efforts to create lighter automotive-grade composite materials that benefit customers by enabling improved fuel economy without sacrificing strength."

Ford's expertise in high-volume manufacturing, design and engineering complements DowAksa's strength in producing materials that make up carbon composites to create parts much lighter than steel components but with no loss of strength.

"DowAksa's technology and manufacturing expertise will help effectively overcome barriers to entry for the use of carbon fiber composites in high-volume automotive applications," said Douglas Parks, DowAksa board member and a primary participant in the founding of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation. "The new institute provides a collaborative platform to accelerate our progress."

 "Our goal is to develop a material that can greatly reduce vehicle weight in support of improved fuel economy for our customers," said Patrick Blanchard, Ford supervisor, Composites Group. "The flexibility of the technology allows us to develop materials for all vehicle subsystems across the product line - resulting in a weight savings of more than 50 percent compared to steel."

Creating lighter vehicles is a major part of Ford's Blueprint for Sustainability to reduce fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. Current models that apply a light-weighting philosophy include the Fiesta - which uses high-strength, lightweight boron steel. The all-new 2015 Ford F-150 uses high-strength, military-grade, aluminum alloy to help reduce overall weight by up to 700 pounds - returning an EPA-estimated 5-29% better fuel economy, depending on engine and driveline configuration on the combined cycle, along with best-in-class payload and tow ratings.

The Ford Lightweight Concept Fusion applied such lightweight materials as aluminum, high-strength steel, magnesium, composites and carbon fiber to nearly every vehicle system to reduce the car's weight to that of a Fiesta - a near 25% cut. Learnings from this concept can reportedly  springboard light-weighting technologies to a much larger scale of production.

Ford and DowAksa also are working together to reduce the energy needed to produce carbon fiber components, cut the cost of raw materials and develop recycling processes.

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