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Commercialization of a full carbon wheel manufactured with an automated high-volume process for the automotive market

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - CARIM (Commercialization of a full carbon wheel manufactured with an automated high-volume process for the automotive market)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-04-30

• What is the problem/issue being addressed?

Car weight has increased continuously in recent years. Despite the development of more efficient engines, the higher fuel consumption due to weight, and consequently higher CO2 emissions, have required intervention by the EC to set a path for emission reduction in the coming years.
Research into lightweight components, materials and the related processes, has led to the substitution of standard steel. Typically, steel is first substituted by aluminum, but automakers are looking more and more at CFRP technologies. This will also be important for next-generation hybrid or electric vehicles.
Reducing unsprung mass in the automobile, especially in the wheel, leads to lower inertia in acceleration, braking and better handling behavior. In the CARIM project, the first production process for a high volume automotive wheel made exclusively of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) addresses the issues mentioned above. An automated preforming and high-pressure resin transfer molding (HP-RTM) process chain is being designed, developed and validated to provide an economic production concept for CFRP wheels.

• Why is it important for society?
This market opportunity will be the start of further private investment and development in a European key technology (carbon composites), and opens a new sector for the automotive industry.
CARIM will bring strategic benefits to Europe by boosting the wheel production industry in the EU, which is currently spread globally with a negative outlook for production in Europe. Once the technology developed in CARIM is available on the market, production is expected to focus increasingly in Europe because the carbon composite raw material transformation process is historically well established in this continent. Increasing the market shares of European wheel producers in the high-tech section will create new jobs, and ongoing developments and improvements will ensure the use of CFRP wheels in high-volume applications.

• What are the overall objectives?

The CARIM wheel is are 28% lighter than the reference wheel made of aluminum. The developed, automatable production process chain is the first CFRP production method which is capable for manufacturing 20,000 wheels per production line per year. A five year plan was made to increase the production capacity at RiBa to 62.000 wheels per year and production line if a customer requests CFRP wheels. The market implementation of the developed CARIM carbon wheel will be implemented within one year after the project end.

The initial target market is the premium sport cars segment and next-generation electrical vehicles (low to mid-volume market). The possibility to scale up the production volume by improved process efficiency, higher automation degree and increased number of production lines will furthermore enable technology transfer to wider markets (sports car segment, electric and hybrid engine vehicles). This corresponds closely to the innovation strategy of the partners, who are experts along the CFRP value chain. They all gained specific know-how for wheel development activities with composite materials through the CARIM project and will benefit from the technology development activities also in new application fields. The industrial partners will or have therefore also increased their turnover and staff.
The series production concept was defined by the project partners for the preforming as well as for the high-pressure injection process (HP-RTM). The HP-RTM infiltration mold was designed according to the requirements of the preform, the injection strategy and the wheel design. After successful testing and validation, the wheel design was verified in a prototyping phase. The results showed the feasibility of the developed manufacturing strategy, also in terms of automation.

The preforming molds have been designed and the selected manufacturing concept was proven on laboratory and production scale. The molds were integrated into the production area of Riba and can be automated for manufacturing of the carbon wheel if higher number are requested by a customer. The HP-RTM mold is a complex, but robust manufacturing system designed for industrial application with HP-RTM production equipment. Withing CARIM, more than 50 wheels were molded to implement the preforming and infiltration process chain and quality the process. High reproducilbility was achieved in the final stage.

The homologation phase for the carbon wheel has started and the next phase of OEM specification tests will be entered to homologate the wheel for customer use.

The partners have disseminated the CARIM project results at various trade fairs and contributed also to scientific conferences to spread the results to a wide audience. A peer reviewed publication was published. Another core element of the project work was the creation of a plan for the dissemination and exploitation of the CARIM results, which was updated near the end of the project and includes activities after the project ends.

An Industrial Exploitation Board (IEB) consisting of eight members along the value chain was established and supported the consortium during the project.
According to a survey on a world-leading wheel supplier, forged Al has a market share of 60-70% of the sports cars segment (the remaining 30% to 40% share belonging to the heavier cast Al). CARIM has attracted several OEMs interested in developing a CFRP wheel, as these provide outstanding weight reduction and driving dynamics. Further secondary effects such as the use of lighter suspension systems and brakes can be considered.

Various concepts for CFRP wheels were not economically viable due to a lack of available automated high-volume production technology. In the CARIM project a production method was developed with the potential to realize significantly higher production volumes compared to the state of the art before the project. Within the first project year the wheel and the necessary processes were analyzed and the production strategy was defined with respect to the feasibility of automation. The developed innovative concept is beyond the state of the art and now available to be used for the production of CFRP wheels.

The sports and the aftermarket segments’ potential of 220,000 vehicles per year is a niche compared to the overall potential sales market, but the success on these markets will promote the introduction of the technology into wider mass volume segments. The production technology developed in the project CARIM aims to increase the European market share for high-end wheel products in the first step, and has already created new jobs within the project consortium for the development activities. During the production implementation jobs will also be created to realize the goal of a production capacity of 62,000 wheels per year by the end of 2020. Further, CARIM will contribute to Europe's strategy of a technological leadership in high-tech applications.

The project also has a positive environmental impact. Due to the unique features of carbon wheels (reduced weight of the unsprung mass leads to lower emissions of the car) the technology will allow car makers to meet the set CO2 targets for fuel driven cars and also for the energy use of the increasing electric car fleet in Europe.