The automotive industry is a burgeoning market for Hexcel’s advanced composite materials thanks in part to public demand for better gas mileage, fewer emissions and safer vehicles.
Here’s an example of how Hexcel composites are making a difference in the pickup truck market. Leaf springs are high-fatigue automotive parts responsible for supporting a vehicle by absorbing bumps and keeping the tires aligned on the road. By using composites to make the two rear leaf springs rather than metal, the total vehicle weight of a pickup truck is reduced by up to 45 pounds. In addition, Hexcel has mastered the cost-efficient production of the heavy-weight glass prepregs used in composite leaf springs thanks to its experience in wind energy, making this a highly cost-effective application as well as light weight and fatigue resistant.
For every 100 pounds of mass that can be removed from a car, the fuel efficiency increases 2 to 3 percent, according to an article published by Composites World. An added benefit of lighter cars is that when the overall mass is reduced, automakers can downsize other components, including the engine, transmission, brakes, suspension and batteries. The use of carbon fiber and composites has been quickly adopted in high-end supercars and racing cars for their performance benefits and unique look, and the passenger car industry is finding news ways to implement composites in its designs.
Another of Hexcel’s newest composite innovations is metal/composite hybrid structures – where metal structures are reinforced with composite patches. This is ideal for structurally critical parts in crash scenarios, but this concept also can be applied to stiffen metal structures to modify vibration behavior. For example, Hexcel has created localized reinforcements on an aluminum subframe using carbon patches to give the same vibration behavior as a 50% heavier steel subframe. These composite patches allow subframe manufacturers to immediately move from a steel to an aluminum structure without compromising on the noise, vibration and harshness requirements.
Without a doubt, Hexcel composites are shaping the future of automotive. As the world starts moving toward new and innovative concepts such as electric cars, autonomous vehicles, and even flying cars, composites are the lightweight, durable solution that can turn all of these concepts into safe and efficient realities.