Vehicles used to be predominantly made of steel, but to reduce weight and cost today’s vehicles are now built from a mixture of materials including steels, aluminum and fiber-reinforced plastics.
Highly stressed load-bearing structures and crash components constructed from composites are designed to buckle on impact to help reinforce the body and protect the vehicle‘s occupants in the event of a collision. But these materials tend to chip into sharp-edged splinters on impact. Researchers have now found a way for the automotive industry to mass-produce a particularly safe class of materials that can absorb the enormous forces generated in a collision without splintering.
Currently used composites constructed using a thermoset matrix not only tend to splinter, they are also difficult to mass produce efficiently and cannot be recycled. Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology (ICT) claim to have now found a solution to these problems by developing a new class of materials designed for large-scale use in vehicle construction called thermopastic fiber composites.
Not only can they be shredded, melted down and reused to produce high quality parts, they have also been found to perform significantly better in crash tests. When reinforced with textile structures they absorb the forces generated in a collision through viscoelastic deformation of the matrix material – without splintering.
Mass production process
Researchers had previously failed to come up with a suitable manufacturing technique for thermoplastic composite structures made from high performance fibers, but the ICT engineers say they have now developed a process suitable for mass production which makes it possible to manufacture up to 100,000 parts a year.