British consultancy Lotus Engineering and Germany's Jacob Composite
GmbH announce 'ECOLITE', a collaborative investigation into an
innovative fibre reinforced composite material that is economically
viable for medium volume automotive production.
The ultimate objective of the ECOLITE programme (Efficient Composites
- Lightweight and Thermoformed) is the development of a typical medium
volume passenger car with a chassis structure and body panels produced
predominantly from composite materials.
Composite parts for structural applications typically suffer from high
per-unit costs and slow cycle times which confine their use to premium
ultra-low volume products. It is anticipated that the collaboration
between Lotus Engineering and Jacob Composite will yield a solution
that rewrites the business case for automotive composite applications
through innovative material design and new production techniques.
Today's passenger car industry faces significant challenges.
Legislation is forcing producers to concentrate on fuel-efficiency and
recyclability. Meanwhile, drivers demand more comfort, speed and
performance, refinement and safety features. Car buyers also want more
choice and greater individuality, which is forcing down model
"Consumer and legislative pressures threaten the profitability of
traditionally-built steel cars which rely on high volumes to be
cost-effective. I see ECOLITE generating exciting solutions that offer
a number of advantages over metallic solutions," explains Steve Swift,
head of Vehicle Engineering at Lotus Engineering. "We anticipate the
new production techniques will require much less investment than metal
stamping tools and also offer cycle times faster than current
manufacturing methods for structural composite materials.
The polymeric materials are recyclable which is highly significant
given the EU's End of Life Vehicle legislation. Finally, as OEMs
struggle to reduce vehicle mass due to ever increasing feature
content, composite materials offer considerable potential for weight
Joint Managing Director of Jacob Composite, Dr. Marcus Ruf explains
"Together we have approached this project as experts in the
manufacture of advanced composite structures, not as car designers. We
have therefore needed to question thoroughly the traditional car build
methodology to obtain optimum results"
The ECOLITE team aims to deliver a range of composite technologies
with polyamide, PBT (polybutylene terephthalate), and polystyrene
resin systems. These will be initially based on glass fibre reinforced
materials tuned to meet the required performance targets.
Considerable effort will be targeted at developing an appropriate
range of thermal and mechanical properties for these new thermoplastic
composite structures. The key will be appropriate selection of
thermoplastic resin and fibre sizing chemistry, and development of the
impregnation and consolidation phases of the manufacturing process.
Used in conjunction with advanced CAE techniques to simulate crash
behaviour the ECOLITE team believes fast and accurate data can be
obtained to rapidly optimise the part design. Similarly, tooling
development will be undertaken using a unique thermoforming simulation
programme that will offer early feasibility data, reduced risk,
shortened lead time, and lower investment.
The nine-month first phase of the collaborative research programme
scheduled for completion in October 2005, will concentrate on the
crash performance of the front-end module of a leading Five-Star
family hatchback car. The research team will design and develop the
material and processes for the crash structure components. The front
end of the vehicle will then be subjected to a range of tests to
assess the structure's performance against its steel donor. Meanwhile,
the viability of mass-producing the material will receive considerable
focus, as this is key to the economic targets for the programme.
The second phase of the ECOLITE programme will expand the project to
include the remainder of the vehicle structure and body. Using the
experience gained from the first phase and developing the concept
further, Lotus and Jacob Composite plan to present a vehicle with a
complete composite body structure. In parallel, the ECOLITE team will
concentrate on proving a business case for production volumes in the
region of 30,000 - 50,000 units per annum. In the longer term, the
ECOLITE team anticipates that further development of the material and
of the production techniques will make the technology viable for
volumes in excess of 50,000 unit's p.a.
Visitors to this year's JEC Show in Paris, taking place between 5 - 7
April, will be able to view elements of the ECOLITE Structure on the
joint Jacob Composite GmbH and Lotus Engineering stand (Hall 1, booth
Lotus Engineering is an internationally recognised automotive
engineering consultancy based in Norfolk, UK. Its global facilities
include those in Michigan, USA and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and offices
in Germany and China. It provides comprehensive and versatile
consultancy services to many of the world's car manufacturers and tier
one automotive suppliers, from initial concept and project design
through development to full production prototype build.
Jacob Composite GmbH
Jacob Composite GmbH is a highly innovative and capable manufacturing
company specialising in the design and manufacture of
ultra-lightweight and high performance composite structures. With its
team of experts, its experience and specialised knowledge in this
field, Jacob is now acknowledged as a major development partner for
the automotive, aerospace and sports industry.
Jacob Composite GmbH is a subsidiary of Manfred Jacob
Kunststofftechnik GmbH. Based in Wilhelmsdorf, Germany; it has over 30
years of thermoforming experience and is market leader for specific
innovative technologies such as Insert Molding and the processing of
Advanced Composites. It also offers specialised, high performance
packaging for the electronics and semiconductor industry as well as
various technical components and handling systems.