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PNNL-led team develops software tools to design affordable automotive composites

ABR Staff Writer Published 04 December 2017

Researchers from the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and experts from industry and academia have developed software tools, which can predict the fiber orientation and length distribution of complex carbon fiber thermoplastic parts.

PNNL has worked with experts from Toyota, Magna, PlastiComp, Autodesk and University of Illinois, Purdue University, and Virginia Tech to develop predictive engineering tools for designing new, economical and lightweight automotive composites.

The research was funded by DOE’s Office of Vehicle Technologies Lightweight Materials Program for the development of engineering tools that will help study the structural characteristics of proposed carbon fiber composites designs.

The team leveraged Autodesk Moldflow software to predict fiber orientation and fiber length distribution in molded components.

The software was developed based on models developed by Professor Charles Tucker and coworkers.

PlastiComp provided materials, while Toyota, PlastiComp and Magna have guided for the molding of long carbon fiber components. Purdue University and Virginia Tech have extracted the fibers for measurement.

Later, PNNL compared the predicted properties from the simulation software to the test results of the molded fibers to confirm the accuracy of the software and models.

PNNL determined that the software tool successfully predicted fiber length distribution in all cases and fiber orientation in 88% of cases.

In addition, PNNL worked with Magna and Toyota to study the performance gains and costs of long carbon fiber components against standard steel and fiberglass composites.

PNNL observed that the carbon fiber reinforced polymer composite technology studied can decrease the weight of automobile body systems by up to 20%.


Image: Mold fill profiles of the 3D complex part. Photo: courtesy of PlastiComp, Inc.