The future of thermoplastics in the automotive industry part 2: High Performance Composites

Will Hornick

High performance composites

Thermoplastics were originally derived from structural polymer composites. Epoxy and polyester thermosetting resins were reinforced with continuous filaments or fibres, and although structural polymer composites demonstrated several key benefits such as low
density and good insulation, they were chemically unstable. Thermoplastics such as CFRP’s do not contend with the same issue as they utilise a thermoplastic matrix. They can be heated, re-molded and cooled several times without degradation, and are prone to less damage from production machinery due to their superior strength. Crucially for the
automotive industry, they are recyclable; unlike thermoset composites.

CFRP materials possess an array of properties that make them attractive for
manufacturing. They are typified by high strength and rigidity; they have a low density,
a greater dampening effect, and are highly resistant to impacting. They have excellent
electrical and thermal conductivity and modifiable thermal expansion properties.

CFRP’s have been used extensively in aerospace engineering, the Boeing 787 being one
such example, which uses composite materials in its airframe and primary structures.
Almost half of the airframe is made up of CFRP and other composites, which provides a
weight saving of around 20%. Formula One is another industry which has used CFRP for
many years; in fact McLaren International first used a CFRP monocoque for their
MP4/1C model in 1981.

The automotive industry as a whole aims to follow this lead of using CFRP more widely with the intention of weight saving and fuel economy at the forefront of
design. Manufacturing processes are continually being developed, and will continue to be streamlined to make it possible to produce parts in a mass production
scenario, both quickly and economically.

This article is part of our series on thermoplastics

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