Brookhouse Uses State-of-the-Art Composites Technology For New Aston Martin

19 October 2001

Innovative composites manufacturing techniques are being used by Brookhouse Holdings plc, of Darwen, to produce composite parts for the exciting new Aston Martin Vanquish high performance car. This latest, impressive addition to the Aston Martin stable makes extensive use of engineering composites, both as structural and semi-structural components, many of which are supplied by Brookhouse.

The automotive industry has long been seeking to transfer the technological advances in construction materials developed in the aerospace sector, and in the field of motor sport, into automotive manufacture in general. Engineering composites offer benefits of weight saving without sacrifice of strength which are just as relevant in motor manufacture as they are in aircraft production. For this reason, engineering composites have been incorporated throughout the design of the Vanquish, combining excellent strength with ultra lightness, to ensure that the car achieves its innovative performance potential.

For example, Brookhouse expertise has been applied in the manufacture of the tooling for the carbon fibre transmission tunnel, which is manufactured by Lotus. This is attached to the car’s bonded and riveted extruded aluminium central monocoque, to provide stiffness and strength without the need for wide sills used in competitive performance cars.

Brookhouse is also the supplier of the inner body side shells, which form part of the high strength occupant safety cell. These are manufactured in a process, which involves the computer-controlled production of fibre pre-forms, where chopped glass fibres are sprayed into a pre-form mould at a variable, but precisely determined orientation and thickness. The pre-forms then undergo resin transfer moulding, using tools produced at Brookhouse’s Darwen factory, in a state-of-the-art, CNC-controlled RTM injection machine. This innovative manufacturing process ensures that the body sides, are dimensionally stable and structurally consistent. The plenum assembly, which is bolted inside the engine compartment as part of the air conditioning system, is also manufactured at Brookhouse, but uses pre-cut, glass fibre pre-forms, as do components such as the radiator cover and the light cluster housings.

Structural composite components are produced at Brookhouse by a process developed jointly by Ford Research Laboratories and Nottingham University. This is carbon fibre braiding and first involves the production of a polyurethane core to the required shape and size, using reaction injection moulding. The core is then layered with carbon fibre, in a precise and controlled manner, so that a component is produced, which has great torsional, flexure and impact strength. Carbon fibre braiding is used to produce the A-pillars, which support the windscreen and the roof, and the cross member strut brace, which imparts rigidity between the suspension struts and also provides protection in the event of a head-on impact. All components are inspected to very exact dimensional tolerances on a highly sophisticated co-ordinate measuring machine before they are despatched to Newport Pagnell.

Brookhouse is a company which specialises in composites engineering, both in terms of composite components and tooling to manufacture composite components. With its headquarters at India Mill in Darwen, the company has long experience in the aerospace sector and is currently supplying tooling for all composite components on the Typhoon jet aircraft. It also supplies new composite parts for many military and civil aircraft and provides a comprehensive composites repair facility, all of which is carried out to the exacting quality standards of leading aircraft manufacturers and third party authorities.

As Barry Turner, joint managing director of Brookhouse Holdings , explains, “We are already well known in the aerospace industry and we are now moving into a new and exciting phase of our growth as we expand into other important market sectors. However, it is important to realise that technology transfer can be a two way process, as much of the technology now being applied in the automotive sector can also find application in aerospace. For example, the advanced techniques such as resin transfer moulding and carbon braiding can just as easily be used in the manufacture of aircraft and other engineering products.”

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