Monday, June 16, 2008

Local Motors Engineering Team Composites Trip - Day One

Day one of the engineering team's trip westward brought us to Glenwood Springs, CO (about 45 minutes NW of Aspen) to visit Fiberforge. The purpose of our visit there was to follow up on a visit made a couple years ago by our CEO Jay Rogers and investigate the application of their patented process of advanced composite structures in the manufacture of LM vehicles. After a four step process of placing the composite tape (fiber reinforced tape infused with a thermoplastic resin), automated consolidation of the multiple layers of tape, automated thermoforming and finally trimming, you will have a part that's

60% lighter and 600% stiffer than steel,

25% lighter than aluminum,

200% tougher than thermoset composites,

and it's a sustainable part that creates 60% less scrap when produced in comparison to sheet material and can be recycled to be used in other processes. For example, the scrap can be used as a core material in between layers of other Tailored Blanks for added rigidity and/or the ability to have a section of a part that can be drilled and tapped for mechanically fastening other parts to the finished part. A specific example would be assembling the trucks to a skateboard, which we saw an example of although it used a different material for a core material. This was also good to see because it showed the flexibility of the process to use different materials for different applications, strengths, weights and costs.

Another interesting capability is introducing a wide array of raw materials into the process. For example, you can introduce fabrics before the part is sealed for a finish other than the standard black carbon finish like a camouflage pattern as we saw on the underside of one of the skateboard samples they had. This may be a process we can incorporate into the build process in certain areas to avoid the cost, added weight and environmental concerns of painting the vehicle. Also, the process isn't limited to the use of carbon fiber. You can also use glass fiber, aramid fiber, polyethelene fiber or basalt fiber. Several different types of resins can be incorporated to suit the performance requirements for each part.

Once we have the design selected, we can determine what parts would best lend themselves to this process, which as you can see offers many benefits over traditional thermoset composites, plastics, and metals currently used in the automotive industry.

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