Engineers and designers love nothing more than new materials, so we at NZ Engineering News have gone on a search to see what’s on the horizon, what’s in place and what’s getting a new look. Here is as snapshot of the marriage between innovation and material, with something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.
Old and blue – Ford
What car manufacturer Ford Motor Co is doing with carbon fibre in the United States definitely isn’t using new material (in essence) or borrowed, but it is a refreshed look at something old and no one can doubt that the company’s latest GT supercar is a very shiny blue.
At about US$400,000, the new flagship model is far out of reach of many, and Ford only plans to sell 250 a year due to carbon fibre restraints, but the model is backed by a recently-signed deal with DowAksa, a joint venture of the Dow Chemical Co. and a Turkish company.
The deal with the carbon-fibre manufacturer allows Ford to jointly explore “high-volume” automotive uses for the lightweight material.
“This joint development agreement reinforces Ford’s commitment to our partnership with DowAksa, and our drive to bring carbon fibre components to the broader market,” Mike Whitens, director of vehicle enterprise sciences for Ford Research & Advanced Engineering, says. “The goal of our work here fits within the company’s blueprint for sustainability, where future Ford vehicles will be lighter with optimised performance that would help consumers further improve fuel economy and reduce emissions.”
Carbon fibre is basically very thin strands of carbon – even thinner than human hair. The strands can be twisted together, like yarn. The yarns can be woven together, like cloth. To make carbon fibre take on a permanent shape, it can be laid over a mould, then coated with a stiff resin or plastic.
The problem with using carbon fibre in manufacturing is cost, but Ford hopes that the new partnership will allow added research and development to
drive the cost down.
The GT is made largely of carbon fibre body panels, and right now that makes it too pricey to compete in the high volume arena.
US publication, Plastics News, estimated the cost of carbon fibre to be 10-12 times more expensive than its estimate using the same amount of steel.
But, this cost of carbon fibre components for automotive is down one-third from the price a decade ago, the publication says. And that needs to be cut in about half to be commercially viable for widespread adoption.
In the US, tighter fuel-economy rules to be phased in over the next decade are forcing car companies to shave the weight of cars and trucks; known as ‘lightweighting’.
In a news release, Ford said its aim is to, “bring carbon fiber components to the broader market.”
Ford is planning to continue to develop cheaper grades of carbon fibre and open doors to increased manufacturing relationships.
Borrowed – Modumetal
There is some big news in the metallurgy field if claims made by Seattle-based start-up company Modumetal are true – steel, 10-time stronger.
Modumetal has ‘borrowed’ existing materials and, according to them, made those materials stronger. The company says it is creating a revolutionary new class of nanolaminated materials that will change design and manufacturing by dramatically improving the structural, corrosion and high temperature performance of coatings, bulk materials and parts.
Modumetal is based on the interaction of different materials at their interfaces. By laminating metals, you can create a new way to influence material properties. By growing metal using low-cost electrochemistry, Modumetal enables a whole new class of applications of these materials. Modumetal’s advanced manufacturing technology makes it possible to grow nanolaminate structures, much like nature grows shell and bone.
Kevin Bullis, MIT Technology Review, indicates the Modumetal process can increase the strength of metals such as steel by as much as 10 times.
Modumetal uses an advanced form of electroplating, a process already used to make the chrome plating you might see on the engine and exhaust pipes of a motorcycle. Electroplating involves immersing a metal part in a chemical bath containing various metal ions, and then applying an electrical current to cause those ions to form a metal coating.
The company uses a bath that contains more than one kind of metal ion and controls how ions are deposited by varying the electrical current. By changing the current at precise moments, it can create a layered structure, with each layer being several nanometers thick and of different composition. The final coating can be up to a centimeter thick and can greatly change the properties of the original material.
David Lashmore, a professor of materials science at the University of New Hampshire who has conducted work in the area, says nano-engineered layers can make a material stronger by stopping cracks from moving through it.
New – limpet teeth
Limpet teeth have been found to be nature’s strongest material.
Engineers at the University of Portsmouth have discovered that these innocuous molluscs latch on via the strongest biological material ever tested. Move over silk.
Limpets use a tongue covered with teeth and actually burrow into and even eat them.
“Biology is a great source of inspiration for an engineer,” Professor Asa Barber, lead author of the new study was reported as saying. “These teeth are made up of very small fibres, put together in a particular way – and we should be thinking about making our own structures following the same design principles.” Watch this space.