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Ford Motor Company is conducting research and development to quantify the weight saving, CO2 reduction and performance benefits of hybrid structural composite suspension elements for commercial vehicle applications.
The project is being undertaken by Ford’s Dunton facility, Gestamp UK (Newton Aycliffe, UK), The National Composites Centre (Bristol, UK) and The University of Nottingham (Nottingham, UK), and is designed to assess the feasibility of hybrid components replacing steel predecessors.
The project, partially funded by Innovate UK and called Composite Hybrid Automotive Suspension System Innovative Structure (CHASSIS), is investigating composite hybrid structures for suspension crossmembers and lower control arms as well as solid axles comprised of metallic, carbon and glass fibre with different matrices to suit their loading conditions.
Manufacturing methods are still under review but could include overmoulding, pultrusion and compression moulding. Advanced joining techniques will also be utilised to meet volume production cycle times. The hybrid parts will accommodate all clevis requirements for attaching parts to meet current hard point locations, and comply with Ford Motor noise, vibration and handling (NVH) requirements.
Alan Banks, one of the report’s authors and the Project Leader, Commercial Vehicle Supervisor at Ford, says the CHASSIS project is facilitated by the consortium’s expertise in finite element analysis (FEA) optimisation, materials, manufacturing techniques and commercial vehicle requirements, which have accelerated the development. This helped to identify the correct material and manufacturing method for each component to be able to reduce the weight by an average of 40%.
Alice Swallow states that innovations of each component are tailored to ensure that each component is able to meet the design requirements of the metallic counterpart. She added further that material selection, anisotropic in nature, helped the development of the tremendous anticipated weight saving and drove the manufacturing process to suit.
Graham Rowland notes that the goal of the project is to develop components and processes with full production in mind, at a rate of approximately 500,000 vehicles per year globally. He also notes that the business model and the customer needs would be the key to the deployment opportunities and whether further opportunities for the technology would be served across other Ford platforms.
Gareth Bone, Innovation Project Manager from Gestamp UK, states that without the knowledge transfer from other Innovate UK projects that they have been a partner on, such as CLASS, LIGHTJOIN and ARCH the material selection and early concept development would have required a much longer time period. The concepts which have been developed to date are defining the right materials in the right place to guarantee the production volume and cost targets are achievable while maintaining a circa 40% weight save over current steel parts
Ben Cross, Project Lead for the NCC, explained that the Chassis project enables them to bring together their expertise in material selection and manufacturing technology together with the demanding challenges provided by the high rate application. The project will also demonstrate the value of the NCC’s investment in the latest generation of high volume composite manufacturing process, including injection overmoulding.
Image provided by Ford Motor Company
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