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New composites process could revolutionise car industry

CSIRO : 24 October, 2002  (New Product)
An example of the potential a new low-cost Australian composite manufacturing process has to revolutionise the world automobile industry is on display at the Sydney International Motor Show (17-27 October).
Developed by Perth-based Quickstep Technologies Pty Ltd (with assistance from CSIRO Molecular Science), the new, proprietary Quickstep process was used to manufacture the bonnet of Holden Special Vehicles' new 'supercar', the HRT 427.

Weighing around three-times less than a standard steel part, the HRT 427's bonnet contributes significantly to the overall reduction in the car's weight to just 1,575kg, or 100kg less than HSV's GTS Coupe.

Launched by HSV to challenge the performance credentials of the $399,000 Porsche 911 GT2, the HRT 427 is proving to be one of this year's major attractions at the Show.

The Quickstep process produces advanced composites more quickly and cheaply than traditional autoclave-based methods which apply heat and pressure to a pot-pourri of fibres and resins within a high-cost mould.

By contrast, the Quickstep solution involves the use of a lightweight rigid mould suspended in heat transfer liquids which circulate in a low-pressure environment around a flexible membrane that maintains constant pressure and heat on the mould to compact the laminate and cure the part.

CSIRO's Advanced Composite Group has been testing the Quickstep process for two years at Quickstep Technologies' large-scale production facility in Perth.

'We've found the process can fabricate aerospace-quality composites from many standard aerospace-grade materials at a fraction of the cost and time (30 minutes versus eight hours per part) without using an autoclave,' says CSIRO's project leader, Dr Jonathan Hodgkin.

According to Quickstep Director, Nick Noble, the high cost of producing lightweight, ultra-strong composites has, until now, prevented mainstream vehicle manufacturers from using them extensively.

'The use of high-tech composites in automobiles would provide improved vehicle safety, greater power-to-weight efficiency and much sought-after emissions reductions,' Mr Noble says.

'While the HRT 427 is an extreme, high-performance example, the Quickstep process is well suited to mass production, a key consideration for the high-volume automotive production industry. The turnaround time for curing the laminate is expected to reduce from half an hour to as little as 10 minutes, compared to six to eight hours with conventional autoclaves,' he says.

Dr Hodgkin says that following recent visits to observe the Quickstep process in action in Perth, several international aerospace and automotive manufacturers have ordered samples from the Group.
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