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The automotive industry is facing ever more difficult challenges, being forced to balance issues such as vehicle weight, crash performance and emissions with those of recovery and recycling. In an attempt to meet these conflicting demands there is a strong trend to use lighter weight composites and combine these with more conventional materials to give highly efficient hybrid structures.
Our understanding, prior to the mission, was that Germany is leading Europe in the adoption of new technologies to enhance vehicle performance and reduce weight, and that Switzerland was an important supplier of technology and components.
A team of UK organizations, including NetComposites, was therefore brought together to undertake a DTI sponsored mission to Germany and Switzerland, to exchange ideas on the future directions of composite and hybrid material structures for automotive applications with some of the key European industrial and research organisations working in this area. The mission took place from 4-8 November 2002 and visited the following organisations:
• Alcan Technology, Neuhausen, Switzerland
• BMW R&D Centre, Munich, Germany
• DLR, Stuttgart, Germany
• Ford R&D Centre, Aachen, Germany
• Horlacher, Möhlin, Switzerland
• IKV, Aachen, Germany
• IKA, Aachen, Germany
• Rieter Automotive, Winterthur, Switzerland
This report details the main findings of the mission and gives an overview of developments in hybrid metallic, polymer and composite structures within the German and Swiss organisations that were visited.
Overall, we found that the use of composites and metal/composite hybrids in automotive structures is still generally at an early stage, with a wide variety of potential material and process types being evaluated and developed. The focus of development is on efficient materials, manufacturing, joining and crash performance to give cost-effective vehicle weight reductions.
There are many similarities in the programmes and work being carried out in Germany, Switzerland and the UK, and on balance it does not appear that there is a significant gap in technology development between the UK and the organisations that we visited.
However, there does appear to be a significant gap between Germany, Switzerland and the UK in the implementation of these technologies, with the application of composite and hybrid structures much further ahead than in the UK.
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