Innovative carbon composite technique adopted by Elemental

4th October 2018

In a pioneering move, the designers at the Elemental Motor Company have utilised an innovative manufacturing technique to extend the use of carbon composites in its RP1 track-focussed road car. Tailored Fibre Placement creates a cost-effective, strong and tough solution where carbon fibre would previously have been ruled out on a cost and fragility basis.

Recent developments by German TFP machine manufacturer ZSK which improve the TFP production process now mean carbon composites can be used in many new applications.

 “TFP completely changed our view of how carbon composites could help to achieve weight and cost targets,” says Elemental’s composites manager, Peter Kent. “We found it created pre-forms very quickly, is cost effective, and very durable. The resulting structural rear bodywork on the Elemental RP1 is tough enough to withstand impacts such as extensive stone chips and has a complex 3D shape with compound curves. This is at odds with the traditional qualities of carbon fibre components.”

SHAPE Group has developed its TFP facility using technology from ZSK, which has developed a number of innovations to allow scaleable mass production. Based upon techniques used in the embroidery industry, TFP involves the laying down of carbon fibre threads or rovings onto a substrate to make a 2 dimensional preform that is ’net shape’. Wastage, handling, and complexity are all reduced over traditional methods, which gradually build up layers of carbon fibre mat by hand as part of a labour-intensive process. TFP has the added advantage of allowing complex 3D shapes to emerge in the mould through clever fibre laying and stitching whilst making the preform.

SHAPE Group specialises in carbon composite tooling, and has a division dedicated to design and manufacture of TFP components. Peter McCool, managing director, says the motivation to consider TFP came from his time as a chief designer in Formula One. “Traditional methods can be very limiting, not just in terms of design and cost, but also the properties of the material, which is brittle and not able to withstand knocks or abrasion.

I felt certain there must be a better way.” McCool found that ZSK’s TFP solution was a perfect fit: “A scaleable, flexible and cost-effective technique which opens up many new opportunities for carbon composites. ZSK has worked hard to make the process efficient and effective with high reproducibility and built-in quality control.”

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