“It’s a good time to be in the automotive composites business,” says Frank Macher, chairman and CEO of Continental Structural Plastics (CSP; cspplastics.com).
Macher, a man with more than 45 years of experience in automotive, isn’t offering up empty platitudes, or resting on previous success either (i.e., in 2013 CSP produced more than 125-million lb. of sheet molding compound that’s used for notable cars, like the fenders for the C7 Corvette and the underbody shield for the Mustang). He sees continued growth as lightweighting continues.
A few years ago, Macher says many OEMs considered composite materials too expensive for many applications. Now: “No one is shirking at cost,” he says. With business booming, CSP’s company scientists, engineers and chemists have developed a carbon fiber SMC they’re working to optimize inside a new 29,000- ft² R&D and prototype center north of Detroit.
The SMC material currently in production is made with glass bubbles and already saves weight compared to steel or aluminum for body panel applications, but using carbon fiber trims additional pounds.
“We see a 30% to 60% weight save by switching to carbon fiber SMC,” says Michael Siwajek, CSP’s director of research and development.
Currently, the company has a 40-piece trial of Lincoln MKS hoods with inner panels made from a carbon fiber SMC material (the outer is made from CSP’s glass-based SMC material). The carbon fiber SMC provides up to a 42% weight savings compared to the existing conventional SMC hood in production on the MKS sedan.
Even though the new R&D center opened in December 2013, Siwajek and his team are already looking toward expanding capabilities, including resin transfer molding and thermoplastic composite development. Siwajek says CSP intends to add equipment including a larger press for molding prototype automotive parts, and a second compounding line for carbon fiber SMC fabrication.—ZP