“Reducing weight is one of the main goals in the automotive industry when it comes to reducing fuel consumption thereby reducing emissions of greenhouse gases,” says Jan-Anders Månson, founder of EELCEE and professor at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland.
“For over 20 years we have conducted research and development of composite materials with the objective of finding manufacturing processes that enable large volumes. One of our target groups has been the automotive industry. We now have a unique and patented technology and plan for the manufacturing of prototypes and products in Sweden,” says Månson.
“Composites are relatively expensive, but with our technology, it is possible to use traditional injection molding machines and with short cycle times we can keep production costs down. We are currently working with several major customers in the automotive industry and with the help of capital from the Swedish company Fouriertransform, we will have the means to further develop the technology,” continues Månson.
Composites with high performance
Composites consisting of fibers and polymers are usually associated with applications in the aerospace, extreme sailing or racing car industries – applications where performance usually outweighs the cost. The interest of using such high-performance materials in mass production has increased in the automotive industry and EELCEE offers a cost-effective technology that makes it possible to mass produce these composites.
The core of a composite material is a wire made of reinforced fiber (carbon fiber, fiberglass, or other fibers) and various types of plastics. The fiber core is heated and formed into a 3D shape that is then molded into and acts as reinforcement in the final product. This may for example involve a bumper or a car seat. Alternative materials are steel and aluminum, but the composite allows the vehicle component to be both easier and cheaper to manufacture.
“A component to a car seat can be approximately 20 to 40 percent lighter, depending on the composites used, which helps reduce vehicle weight and thus lowers fuel consumption,” says Månson. “We will manufacture composite cores and resell to the automotive industry. The cores are lightweight and take up little space and can be cheaply transported to various locations across the globe.”
The technology – called QEE-TECH ® – is adapted to the methods and equipment used for plastic injection molding. EELCEE pre-fabricates QEE-FORM ® in an automated production cell. Each QEE-FORM has a specific appearance, polymer composition and content of fibers – all depending on the required properties of the composite material. There are basically no restrictions on which fibers or thermoplastics that can be used. The composite core is sent to the customer to make the final product.
The composite material can also be used in traditional machines within the plastics industry and the cycle time is about one minute and is relatively inexpensive. Besides the automotive industry, there are a variety of possible applications in consumer products, sporting equipment and building structures.
A life cycle analysis conducted by EPFL shows that the composite material has numerous environmental advantages. Compared with steel, the corresponding vehicle component carbon dioxide emissions become 30 percent lower.
The article was published in October 2012