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UK Mission in Applying Composite Joining Research into Practical Applications

17 September 2004

According to a recent report on the joining of hybrid materials in automotive structures, the UK industry is excelling in innovation and research, but is lagging behind key European countries in translating ideas into real applications.

The report, Hybrdimat 2, is a UK Department of Trade and Industry Mission report on strategies of joining of metallic and composite materials in automotive structures. The report examines comparable developments in France and Germany, and disseminated its findings at a conference in Birmingham, UK last week.

The first Hybrid materials study (Hybridmat 1) produced two years ago, highlighted areas of industry where there was a disparity between innovation and research and the application of this research into commercially viable products and processes. Joining hybrid materials was one of such areas identified in the report as being an example in which the adoption of novel materials and processes in the UK industry, was perceived to be less than other nations

A team from UK organisations was brought together to undertake a Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) sponsored mission to France and Germany, to exchange ideas on the future directions of joining technologies for automotive structures with some of the key European industrial and research organisations working in this area.

TWI Ltd of the UK, suggested that “the new emerging challenge is for effective joining of mixed material components into hybrid structures – how to build composites into intrinsically metallic fabrications.”

The UK is a world leader in joining technology but awareness of the developments taking place in the automotive industry is required to maintain that lead in the automotive sector. The joints between materials and components are vital to ensure that the whole structure is efficient, can carry design loads and, in some cases, contribute to impact resistance and occupant safety.

This DTI supported mission evolved, to investigate the current and future strategies for optimal design for joining and disassembly of automotive structures that are being considered by major European automotive manufacturers and organisations that are already working in this field, and to explore the future impact on the automotive supply chain.

Joining is a seen as a critical issue in the increased use of hybrid materials in automotive structures, and affects structural performance, weight, process technologies, assembly, safety and recycling. Furthermore, next-generation vehicles will increasingly use modular construction and combinations of different materials that will require bespoke joining technologies.

The teams understanding, prior to the mission, was that France, with one of the strongest markets in Europe for high performance automotive composites, has a technological edge over other European countries in composite processing, and that Germany is leading in the adoption of new materials to enhance vehicle performance, and reduce weight and emissions. Both countries were seen as leading in the development of joining technologies for disparate automotive materials.

Currently joining, particularly of dissimilar materials, is through a combination of adhesive and mechanical fasteners, due, in part, to a reluctance to depend entirely on the process control required and long term durability assurance of the adhesive. Mechanical fasteners are also desirable as ‘peel stoppers’. It was clear from the visits to the various locations and institutes that virtual testing, modelling and simulation have become very important to all the host companies, whatever sector they were operating in.

The report provides an overview of developments in joining technologies for automotive structures, following visits to organisations within France and Germany. The organisations visited represented a cross section of industry and academia from major OEMs such as Renault and DaimlerChrysler to applied R&D centres active in development joining technologies, such as DLR and IFAM, in both the automotive and aerospace sectors. In the automotive sector, materials and process selection is based on cost and functional attributes. The trend is for increasing multimaterial designs, redefining the vehicle in terms of highly stressed lightweight monocoque, and discrete functional modules. A common theme is the use of improved CAE tools and modularisation to help achieve reduced vehicle development cycle and costs from a typical 36 months to 24 months.

Sue Panteny, Research Manager for Faraday Advance, and a member of the mission team, said that one of the findings in the report was that “spot welds in combination with adhesive are increasingly being used to join body structures. The growth in adhesive use is expected to continue to but confidence is needed of the long term durability of such joints. The lack of sufficient materials data and the need for modelling of bonded structures, especially with respect to joint durability and impact damage, was highlighted at both DaimlerChrysler and Renault.”

The feedback from this mission will give UK companies an insight into the thinking of some of the key European organisations in this area, enabling them to identify technology gaps and focus future development programmes

The keynote speakers Alexander Pothoven, Smart Gmbh and Bertrand Jaud, Plastic Omnium, created great interest in the audience when they discussed the current trend towards modularity and the more flexible approach to car design. This was clearly demonstrated by the Smart Forfour that was exhibited at the seminar, thanks to Alexander Pothoven.

The Smart car provided a novel approach to the use of composites in automotive structures by producing the first all polymer front CBS comprising PC/PBT Thermoplastic, and SMC Thermoset and a polypropylene glass reinforced assembly carrier.

The full Hydrimat 2 report is available for download from here





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