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Technology | composites and LFTs

Increasing regulatory pressure on emissions is renewing car- makers’ interest in composites, with thermoplastic solutions topping the priority list. Chris Smith reports

Car makers to go composite

Composites have long played a key role in automotive sport, but the labour and time consuming production methods of Formula 1 and supercar builders have not been adopted in volume car production. Now, regulatory pressure on mainstream car makers to cut fuel consumption and reduce emissions has renewed interest in composites for their ability to cut weight and is accelerating interest in long fi bre reinforced thermo- plastics (LFT) and prompting development of new continuous fi bre and hybrid manufacturing technologies. Injection moulded LFTs are already delivering

considerable weight savings in volume automotive applications, often with the additional benefi ts of reduced system cost and improved reliability. “LFT is a good way to lightweight and reduce cost in car produc- tion so, despite weakening automotive manufacturing in Europe, LFT demand can be expected to rise,” says John Nash, director of consulting at AMI and editor of the company’s multi-client study of the global long fi bre reinforced polypropylene (LFT PP) market. Europe’s automotive industry is the largest single

market for LFT PPs, where they are used in applications such as front-end carriers, instrument panel carriers, control pedals and under-body panels. Despite recent data from automotive industry analyst LMC showing European car sales declined by 8.2% in 2012 to just

11.8m units – and its prediction of a further 3.2% fall for 2013 – Nash is confi dent that increased penetration of LFTs in new model introductions will continue to drive volume consumption. The strongest growth in LFT volumes is seen in

granular materials – LFT-G – which can be processed on standard injection moulding machines. Ticona’s long fi bre reinforced plastics business unit, which manufac- tures the company’s Celstran and Factor LFT-G products using its own pultrusion technology at plants at Kaiserlautern in Germany, Winona in the US and Nanjing in China, claims to have set a new production record in the third quarter of 2012. As part of the company’s plans to develop application

specifi c LFT products, a new pilot line commenced operation at the Kaiserlautern site in Germany at the end of last year. The company says the line will enable LFT customers to develop new compounds using glass, carbon, aramid and even stainless steel fi bre reinforce- ments. Typical of the latest applications for Ticona’s LFT

products is the sub-structure for the new instrument panel (IP) manufactured by US-based Inteva Products for use on the 2013 model year Buick Enclave, Chevro- let Traverse and GMC Acadia SUVs. A 30% glass reinforced grade of Celstran LFT PP is being used to

January/February 2013 | INJECTION WORLD 19 The carbon-

epoxy body of McLaren’s P1 supercar

demonstrates the outstanding performance of today’s

advanced composites.

But implemen- tion in high volume


production will require

thermoplastic- based tech- nologies

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