In a bulkhead application, replacing a traditional metal component with the UDMAX tape lamination within the part reduced mass by 35 percent. Photo courtesy of SABIC.

PARIS—At the international composites show JEC World 2019 in March, SABIC unveiled a new technology for producing lightweight, cost-effective, and recyclable vehicle panels using its UDMAX™ tape, a unidirectional, fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composite. The technology, designed to replace traditional panels made of metal and thermoset materials for interior and exterior automotive applications, is on track to be commercialized in the bulkhead of a light commercial vehicle (LCV) produced in large scale for the global automotive market, SABIC said in a press release.

The bulkhead was developed through an international collaboration among SABIC; RLE International, an engineering services provider headquartered in the United Kingdom; AMA Composites, an Italian toolmaker; and Setex Textil GmbH, a weaver based in Germany. SABIC showed a sample model of the composite bulkhead at its JEC World 2019 exhibit.

Vehicle panels made with UDMAX tape combine strength and impact resistance with light weight, reducing mass of  interior panels by up to 35 percent versus  metal parts. For exterior panels, the composite material can help reduce mass by up to 50 percent. The panels are produced using a highly efficient, one-shot process of lamination and low-pressure molding.

“Our UDMAX tapes offer the automotive industry a powerful solution to the ongoing challenges of reducing weight, lowering costs, and improving sustainability,” said Hans Warmerdam, CEO and chief sales and marketing officer, SABIC FRT – a SABIC affiliate—in the release. “We’re confident that the light commercial vehicle’s bulkhead is the first of many structural applications where our innovative materials, combined with this novel processing approach, can help solve our customers’ challenges of achieving lighter weight without compromising safety, durability, and fuel or energy use.

“Through continued collaboration among this unique team of engineers, designers, and technical experts in materials and in conversion processes, we intend to explore more ways to expand the adoption of our thermoplastic composite technology,” he added.

Reducing Mass, Streamlining Production

The use of thermoplastic composites can lead to a significant reduction in mass. In the bulkhead application, the replacement of a traditional metal component with the UDMAX tape lamination within the part reduced mass by 35 percent. Lower weight can also make the large bulkhead easier to handle, which could help accelerate vehicle assembly.

This mass saving can be achieved without sacrificing the impact performance of the part, which is essential to protect occupants against injuries caused by shifting cargo. According to RLE International, the bulkhead complies with ISO 27956, the standard for securing cargo in delivery LCVs. The build-up of the process and the tensile strength of the UDMAX are the main factors in optimizing the impact resistance of the bulkhead.

Compared to metallic or injection molded parts of a conventional, multi-piece bulkhead, the new method – designed, developed and engineered by RLE International – is said to reduce tool costs by up to 80 percent versus injection molding tools. The saving is due to the ability to replace an expensive, high-pressure tool with a lower-cost, low-pressure tool. Overall, the supplied cost of the LCV’s bulkhead can be 10 percent lower than the conventional metallic bulkhead that it replaces, SABIC said.

The technology is also said to represent a change in vehicle panel production by increasing efficiency and reducing complexity. With molding cycle times under two minutes, the streamlined process avoids sourcing and assembling multiple components, traditionally at different supplier locations, as well as secondary painting and trim operations.

A proprietary lamination featuring a core of extra-wide UDMAX tape woven by Setex incorporates aesthetic finish in a one-shot compression step. The process also permits variations in the thickness of the panel to improve noise, vibration, and harshness (NHV) levels, helping to reduce noise in the vehicle. AMA Composites created the tool and molded the concept parts.

“Our new technology for producing panels using UDMAX thermoplastic composite tape offers tremendous opportunities to the automotive industry,” said Mark Grix, head of interior and exterior engineering for RLE International. “One example is the electric vehicle sector, where lower panel weight can extend driving range and lower-cost tooling can reduce capital investments for start-up companies. RLE International stands ready to assist automotive tiers in mastering this new process so they can leverage its advantages on behalf of their OEM customers.”

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