Continental Structural Plastics, an automotive technology company in Auburn Hills, has fine-tuned its carbon fiber RTM (CF-RTM) process to the point that a premium automaker will be using the technology for inner and outer door panels on future vehicle platforms.
When Continental Structural Plastics founded its Center of Excellence for Lightweight Technologies and Carbon Fiber Processes in Pouancé, France, in 2013, the stated goal was to develop processes to make high-volume use of carbon fiber affordable and feasible.
Since then, the CSP team in Europe has been developing a CF-RTM process that would result in high-strength, ultra-light-weight components to help OEMs address stringent CO2 emissions regulations. Specifically, the team has been focused on improving cycle time, utilizing automated preforming, and lowering the cost of the carbon fiber materials.
“We have been targeting a 3-minute cycle time using 100 percent recycled carbon fiber,” says Marc Philippe Toitgans, director, R&D for CSP Europe. “With our multi-material decklid concept, we demonstrated this was totally possible. Now we are proud to say we have collaborated with major OEMs in the United States and Europe on carbon fiber RTM programs and will see the first commercial applications of this technology very soon.”
From CAE analysis, flow simulation, preform process, mold design, and full automation, CSP has built expertise to support major structural and Class A CF-RTM programs for doors and other body-in-white applications. According to CSP, the key elements of its process are based on:
- 100 bars of injection pressure, and up to 1,500 tons of pressure for closure applications.
- High fiber content (greater than 50 percent) for structural applications.
- 20-second injection time.
- Management of variable thicknesses.
- Weight savings of up to 30 percent when compared to aluminum.
To support several carbon fiber RTM programs that will begin as soon as the end of 2020, CSP and parent company Teijin are investing in a dedicated CF-RTM production line in Palmela, Portugal. The initial investment of $6.75 million will include the installation of compression presses, RTM injection units and a bonding cell.
“We are excited to be working hand-in-hand with our customers in Europe to demonstrate our RTM capabilities,” says Ricardo Barros, program manager at CSP. “The level of industrialization and automation we are installing in Palmela is second to none for similar carbon fiber applications.”
In addition to reducing component weight and cycle times, the CSP team in Europe has been pursuing a number of methodologies that will result in more sustainable manufacturing processes, according to the company. Working toward a net zero emission target, CSP Europe’s CF-RTM process of the future has a primary focus on natural or recycled fibers, thermoplastic/bio-sources, advanced resins, and reduced scrap and waste.
“Our goal is to keep working on a sustainable value proposition with a focus on net zero CO2 emissions,” says Philippe Bonte, president of CSP Europe. “We will achieve this via advanced manufacturing technologies and the use of renewable materials with the aim of becoming a positive contributor to the global environment.”