Williams Advanced Engineering introduces new approach for using carbon composite structures
Williams Advanced Engineering has published a white paper to showcase its innovations in carbon composites and the benefits they offer. The company says it has developed a pair of innovative technologies that promise a step-change in the affordability of composite materials.
Known as 223 and Racetrak, these technologies reportedly offer comparable performance to existing composite solutions but with a range of additional benefits and at a cost that brings them within reach of mainstream applications. The company says that these end-to-end, whole-life solutions address every aspect of the manufacture, use, and recycling of carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) and the way in which its properties can enable new approaches to vehicle design and manufacture.
“Racetrak and 223 are just two examples of a new generation of technologies, developed and commercialized by Williams Advanced Engineering,” said Iain Bomphray, Chief Technology Specialist, Lightweight Structures, and the person at Williams Advanced Engineering behind these two technologies. “With this approach, we have the potential to develop new, growing areas of business that will also make significant contributions to the industries in which we work.”
CFRP is a material has an exceptionally high strength-to-weight ratio, impressive stiffness, and excellent fatigue and environmental resistance make it an attractive choice for a wide variety of industries and applications.
The company says that this is particularly pertinent to the automotive industry, where lightweighting is seen as one of the primary tools needed to meet increasingly stringent fuel economy and emissions targets, as well as to support the range required from electric vehicles. However, the advantages of CFRP extend across many sectors, from railway carriages to wind turbines.
A number of factors have held back the mass adoption of CFRP. Chief among these is cost, with traditional composite production methods involving expensive materials and lengthy process times. They also incur a relatively high scrap rate (typically around 30%), compounded by the challenges of recovering the carbon from pre-impregnated off-cuts, and of finding value from the material at the end of the product life.
These challenges have seen the application of CRFP largely confined to niche applications. In the automotive sector, for instance, a body-in-white structure produced with traditional composite techniques is typically around 60% lighter than one manufactured in steel, yet around 20 times the cost. This has limited its application to vehicles that are low volume/high cost, or where the vehicle manufacturer subsidizes the process as part of its learning around new technologies.
“We are focusing our expertise on energy management, aerodynamics, thermodynamics, and lightweighting. As tools for efficiency improvement, these are all highly synergistic, so considering them as an integrated system allows us to increase significantly the total benefits,” explained Williams Advanced Engineering Technical Director Paul McNamara. “While we have undoubtedly learnt a great deal from success in Formula 1 and Formula E, they are high-profile examples of what we do. Behind closed doors, we are solving challenging problems for world-class companies across a wide range of sectors and working with some of the most highly-regarded manufacturers on next-generation, low- carbon technologies.”
Looking ahead, the trend toward automated driving could also fuel the need for affordable composites in the automotive sector. Not only does this bring yet more mass and substantially more energy consumption to offset, it also brings up the question of how this technology will be integrated into the platform. The use of composite processes such as 223 and Racetrak give the prospect of more flexible design, while both these technologies support the use of embedded thin-film sensors.
One possibility is turning wishbones and other CFRP components into calibrated load cells that could transfer road load data back to the vehicle via wireless electronics. This would not only allow a vehicle manufacturer to capture anonymized usage data, it will also have practical applications at a vehicle level, measuring real-time loads applied to a component. An example is a wishbone providing data that can be used to infer lateral grip, for use by the stability control input.