Plastics in automotive applications: Carbon fiber parts in 3 minutes or less

That's the claim being made by Dow Automotive executives who spoke to PlasticsToday about the company's recently introduced Voraforce material for use in resin transfer molding of carbon fiber reinforced parts.  The company also offers adhesive and other material solutions that can be combined with Voraforce so that carbon fiber reinforced parts become a more regular sighting in passenger vehicles.

Voraforce is the brand name of a new resin developed by Dow Automotive, designed for use with carbon fiber reinforcement. Carbon fiber has been in the new a lot in automotive circles as two major OEMs, Daimler and BMW, both have announced separate supply agreements with carbon fiber suppliers. Daimler is working with Japan's Toray, the market's largest supplier, and BMW stayed closer to home to partner with Germany's SGL Carbon. Carbon fiber is, pound for pound, stronger than steel, but is much less dense, meaning carmakers can use carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) to lower a vehicle's weight significantly without giving up any safety.

Dow Automotive officials spoke with PlasticsToday at their stand at last week's Plastics in Automotive Engineering event in Mannheim, Germany, organized each year by the VDI, Germany's association for engineers. "(CFRP) parts aren't just an idea anymore, now it's reality," stated Eugenio Toccalino, global marketing manager at Dow Automotive. When PlasticsToday spoke with Toccalino last year at the Mannheim event, he said his company was working on processing technology for carbon fiber reinforced epoxy to try to get cycle times to five minutes or less, a range he said is necessary for the estimated build rates of 50,000 - 100,000 vehicles/yr. He also said the company was developing the adhesives necessary for carbon fiber-reinforced epoxy parts. One year later, Dow Automotive now offers both.

The epoxy is Voraforce, and the adhesives package is called Betaforce. Betaforce adhesives can be used to bond CFRP parts to steel, aluminum and sheet molding compound, said Orhan Imam, market development manager, automotive at the company. Currently the company is sure cycle times of 3-minutes of less are possible, and Imam said trials have been run with cycles of about 60 seconds. As we recently reported, Japanese plastics supplier Teijin claims it has developed a process for compression molding CFRP parts made in a minute or less. Teijin's technologies rely on thermoplastics as a matrix material instead of conventional thermosetting resins for CFRP parts. Imam said processing of the Veraforce parts is being optimized as Dow Automotive and some partners work on ways to speed the curing of the RTM parts via infrared heating, inductive heating, and other means.

CFRP parts look cool, but the noise...

Steel is better at keeping noise out of a car's passenger compartment than CFRP parts, said Michael Hierl, marketing manager EMEA at Dow Automotive. To help complete its marketing pitch for the Voraforce and Betaforce products, the supplier also is optimizing ways to integrate its Betafoam polyurethane foam into CFRP parts. The foam can ensure that CFRP parts provide the same level of acoustic performance as steel/metal parts, he said, while also bringing additional safety and crash resistance to the CFRP parts. "So you get the acoustic properties of steel, at a lighter weight, with the same or better crash properties," he explained.  


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