Source: Detroit Free Press | Mark Phelan | March 12, 2016
Everybody talks about change, but few deliver. That’s what makes Ford and DowAksa’s project to make carbon fiber practical and affordable for use in mass-market vehicles different and the winner of a Detroit Free Press Automotive Difference Maker award.
The joint development project aims to make a super strong, lightweight material that’s now used in fighter planes and supercars practical for vehicles normal folks can afford.
The payoff? Vehicles that are stronger and more fuel efficient, with lower emissions and fewer injuries in accidents.
Ford and DowAksa’s work — which includes research by the new Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood — will lead to a few parts on the Ford GT supercar that goes on sale later this year. But the real payoff arrives when a future F-150 pickup, Fusion midsize sedan or Explorer SUV is built that weighs hundreds of pounds less than current vehicles.
The Ford DowAksa team envisions a day like that in the not-so-distant future.
That’s because carbon fiber can cut the weight of a part by 60% compared to steel. That’s half again the weight savings Ford achieved when it dramatically switched the F-150’s body from steel to aluminum. The potential benefits from carbon fiber are even greater because it can be used for almost any part of a car or truck.
“We have projects looking at all areas of the vehicle: Body structure, interior, power train and exterior,” said Peter Friedman, Ford director of structures and stamping research. “Carbon fiber has the potential to give us significant weight savings. More than other materials.”
Ford and DowAksa are working to reduce the cost of material and manufacturing — making carbon fiber and turning it into parts in the high volumes and at the quick speeds required by mass-market auto-making.
“Making affordable parts in high volumes is the goal,” Friedman said. “We’re looking to reduce the cost and time it takes to make the raw material, produce carbon fiber and assemble a vehicle.”
Ford’s $400,000 GT supercar is the antithesis of high volume, low cost auto-making, but it provides a valuable test bed for carbon fiber parts. Its body panels and structure are made predominantly of carbon fiber, and the very small number of units Ford plans to build will let engineers test parts and processes exhaustively. There’s no word on when Ford expects to have those higher volume, less expensive parts ready for mass-market vehicles.
DowAksa is a 50/50 joint venture of Midland-based Dow Chemical and Aksa of Turkey, which produces acrylic fibers that are raw the material for carbon fiber.
“DowAksa deploys the benefits carbon fiber offers for mass production of cars and trucks. With less weight and more strength, carbon fiber composites enable vehicles to reliably and sustainably reduce energy use,” said Ravi Ramanathan DowAksa vice president for automotive.
The project builds on research begun by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Michigan State University and other groups as part of the DOE’s mandate to promote manufacturing competitiveness and employment in the United States.