American Auto Companies Form Consortium to Develop Structural Composites for Large Parts
||Automotive Composites Consortium
(Led by Ford, General Motors, Chrysler [now Daimler-Chrysler], and 25 other organizations)
Duration and Cost:
funding amount: $2.6 M
- Automotive Composites Consortium cost-share amount: $2.8 M
Report of the Completed Project:
Structural composites are lighter and are more corrosion-resistant than steel, which may enable more fuel-efficient cars. In addition, one large composite part could replace many steel subcomponent parts, which can reduce final assembly cost. However, in the early 1990s, these parts could only be made in low volumes, long production cycles, and had high scrap rates, thus limiting the implementation of composites. The research and development to develop composite technology required collaboration across disciplines, equipment, and a complex automotive supply chain. In 1995, the Automotive Composites Consortium (ACC), along with twenty-five other subcontracting organizations, received ATP support to develop process, tools, and models to produce innovative structural composites.
and Economic Impacts
Through the ATP project, the consortium contributed to improving the competitiveness of the U.S. auto industry. The consortium members achieved many of their technical objectives, which culminated in one patent, numerous publications and a better understanding of how to perform structural reaction injection molding (SRIM) in a high-volume, low-cost process to make composites.
The SRIM technology initially developed under ATP has been further refined and developed, and is being incorporated into products today:
- In the 2001 model year, GM released a composite midgate (a door that folds down to extend cargo space) for the Chevrolet Avalanche. The company sold 53,000 units in 2001, 90,000 in 2002, and 93,000 in 2003. GM also released inner tailgate sections for the Cadillac Escalade EXT hybrid sport utility vehicle, beginning in the 2001 model year. The company sold 546 units in 2001, 13,000 in 2002, and 11,000 in 2003.
- In the 2001 model year, General Motors (GM) released an award-winning pickup truck box and tailgate assembly made of structural composites for the Chevrolet Silverado. The Silverado truck box, a consumer option, weighed 50 pounds less than the conventional welded steel box (a 33-percent savings). The tailgate weighed 15 pounds less than steel and had a 1,000-pound load-carrying capacity (compared to 600 pounds for steel). The pickup truck box option was discontinued in 2003.
- Daimler Chrysler released composite floor sections for the " Stow 'n Go" system to fold down second- and third-row seats in the Chrysler Town & Country LX and the Dodge Grand Caravan SXT, beginning in the 2005 model year. The company anticipates sales in excess of 250,000 units. GM won a "Best of What's New" award from Popular Science magazine for the Chevrolet Silverado composite truck box in 1999; the magazine recognized it as "a breakthrough in the use of structural composites."
- The NCC, with GM, Ford, and Daimler Chrysler, began work in 2001 on using carbon fiber in the support piece between the front and rear doors on a four-door sedan. Carbon-fiber-based SRIM is the next generation of lightweight, strong, and durable structural composite parts; they are stiffer and stronger than steel, with a 50- to 60-percent weight savings.
The knowledge gained and validation of the technical concepts achieved through the ATP project enabled the consortium to leverage even more resources to continue the technical development of the SRIM. For example:
- The ATP-funded research helped to establish the National Composite Center (NCC) in Ohio in 1996, which promotes, develops, and applies advanced composite technology to aerospace, defense, automotive, and commercial markets. NCC also received funding from the State of Ohio . The ACC received an additional $3 million in research funding from the Department of Energy from 1997 to 2000 to complete the program.
- The ACC received ongoing internal funding from each of the three auto manufacturers to continue the development. For example, in a proprietary program, GM conducted pickup truck box testing and development in 1998 and 1999, investing more than $60 million.
Furthermore, the ATP-funded project resulted in commercialized products relying on SRIM technology in other industries:
Date created: July 29, 2005
- Boeing is applying SRIM composites to its new 787 "Dreamliner" series 289-passenger planes, which are currently under development. For this application, composites save 3 percent in fuel efficiency and contribute to an overall 20-percent fuel savings. The first commercial flight is expected in 2008. NCC conducted related research with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for aerospace composite pre-form parts, beginning in 1997. The project team demonstrated significant cost reductions in 1999 for the Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft. For example, a SRIM tail cone cost 80 percent less, a fighter access door cost 46 percent less and was 9 percent lighter, compared with previous composite parts. Lion Apparel utilized the SRIM technology to make fire helmets. In addition to eliminating two steps in the manufacturing process, production efficiency was increased by 35 percent, the raw material inventory reduced, and labor costs reduced. The scrap rate was reduced from 20 percent to less than 3 percent. The resulting helmets were 15-percent lighter than previous composite helmets and had 15-percent greater impact resistance.
- SRIM boat motor covers are manufactured by SeaRay Marine Division of Brunswick Corp. The process reduces volatile organic compound emissions compared with the previous open-atmosphere spray method.
Last updated: August 5, 2005