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Reinventing The Wheel

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 3:43pm
Nikita Ernst, Associate Editor

Chem.Info sat down with Thierry Materne, global vice president of Technology for SABIC's Innovative Plastics business, to talk about the development of the world's first thermoplastic wheel, a technology that has almost limitless potential to reduce emissions and save on manufacturing costs across multiple industries.

Why reinvent the wheel?

There is a drive across the automotive industry to reduce the weight of components and systems across the entire vehicle to achieve fuel efficiency gains and emission reductions. In the past, some parts or systems may have seemed untouchable. However, today, no part or system on a vehicle is seemingly off the table when it comes to exploring potential opportunities to take out weight or to realize other improvements or enhancements.

This thermoplastic carbon composite wheel represents an opportunity to potentially realize weight savings of up to 20 to 30 percent. These savings are significant and would contribute directly to fuel economy gains. The application could also lead to an emission reduction of two to three percent.

There are some other benefits to a thermoplastic composite wheel. Because faster process steps are possible for its manufacture, this solution can offer the advantages of a shorter cycle time for productivity improvements and reduced manufacturing costs. The wheel can be manufactured with less environmental impact compared to conventional composite processes and it offers full system recyclability.

Can you tell me about the design process?

The thermoplastic composite wheel is made up of different technologies. Kringlan’s patented technology converts pre-pregs into three-dimensional shapes. It relies on shaping pre-preg tapes and consolidating them into a dense three-dimensional part in a single step. The pre-pregs, jointly developed with other industrial partners, are based on a carbon fiber-reinforced ULTEM™ resin solution.

Compared to a thermoset-based carbon composite, this thermoplastic-based solution can offer the advantages of shorter cycle time, which can reduce costs, and material recyclability. Compared to a metal solution, the thermoplastic carbon composite wheel offers lower weight and increased crash-worthiness.

ULTEM resin is a critical enabling material. In particular, this material is important because it delivers the elevated temperature performance required for the application. The brake area behind a wheel can rise far above 200°C so one needs a material that is very strong, like ULTEM resin. This material is among the most dimensionally stable thermoplastics available today and offers a high level of predictability across a wide temperature range. ULTEM resin also provides exceptional stiffness at a very low weight. The material also helps maintain the shape and strength of the composite wheel, which needs to be perfectly round.

Why did you land on the thermoplastic composite?

A thermoplastic-based carbon composite offers a number of advantages vs. other material options. A thermoplastic-based solution will typically offer greater strength, stiffness, and impact resistance. Compared to a thermoset-based carbon composite, this thermoplastic-based solution can offer the advantages of a shorter cycle time, which can reduce manufacturing costs. Also, compared to a thermoset-based solution, a thermoplastic-based composite can potentially be recycled and remolded or reshaped.

The thermoplastic composite wheel also offers an environmentally responsible solution. Automakers are focused on reducing the weight of components and systems across the entire vehicle. This thermoplastic carbon composite wheel can enable weight savings from 20 to 30 percent, contributing to fuel economy improvements. Emission reductions can also be achieve both from the vehicle use phase and the manufacturing process, which is less intensive versus conventional processes. Cycle time reductions, the need for less material and full system recyclability, are additional advantages.

How broadly applicable is this technology?

We believe this technology can be translated to other applications within other industries. Kringlan’s 3D shaping capabilities combined with ULTEM™ resin from SABIC represents a unique technology platform, which can deliver similar benefits to applications found within other industries such as mass transportation, aerospace, sporting, and consumer goods.

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