Saturday, September 24, 2011

No. 316: New technologies for a lighter autobody are coming (September 25, 2011)

Japanese companies are increasing the presence in the technology for a lighter autobody. Sumitomo Metal Industries developed a technology to build framework parts by processing high-strength steel pipes and successfully increased the strength 2.5 times by improving the technology of thermal treatment. Although special facilities are required to modify steel plates into high-strength steel pipes, the technology decreases iron consumption 30-50% on a weight basis and reduces production cost because neither a mold nor welding is necessary. The company built a line for trial production and started sample shipment to get orders for parts inside the door.

Carbon fiber weighs one fourth of iron, and has 10 times more strength than iron. It has a problem with the molding time that takes more than one hour. Toray reduced the molding time required to mix resin and carbon fiber to less than 10 minutes, realizing the same production cost that is required for aluminum. Teijin started sample shipment of sheet carbon fiber mixed with thermoplastic resin that hardens should it be cooled. Teijin’s product can be molded in less than one minute. DIC will build a plan to produce high-performance resins called polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) for auto parts with an investment of about 8 billion yen. The company has a share of more than 30% in the world market. Demand for PPS is growing as a lighter material that can replace metals for parts related to engine and motor. The new plant has an annual production capacity of 5,500 tons, and full production is scheduled to start in 2015. A lighter autobody is critical to better fuel consumption, and the competition is expected to grow fiercer worldwide. The Japanese government is currently working on a bill to oblige automakers to improve fuel consumption by 24.1% by 2020 as compared with the level in 2009.

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