At the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, British car manufacturer Aston Martin unveiled its latest carbon fibre car known as ‘Vulcan’. The sleek machine has a monocoque, which is like a single skin, made of carbon fibre. Using a single piece of material instead of many, reduces stress on the vehicle. The lighter material improves speed and reduces carbon emissions. As early as the 1980s, Formula One teams including McLaren pioneered this sort of technology, but now luxury players including Lamborghini, BMW and Lotus are entering the game, too. As carbon fibre technologies are developed and become more financially viable, they’re trickling down to mass-market automotive companies around the world.
Carbon composite materials make cars and planes lighter, fast and more economical. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is made of 50 per cent carbon fibre composite materials which has enabled a 20 per cent improvement in fuel economy and a 20 per cent reduction in fuel emissions. With these results, it’s no surprise that car companies are jostling to pass these advantages on to consumers. Mr Buckmaster says we are beginning to see some interesting car designs, such as the BMW i3’s carbon fibre chassis, but while luxury motor companies have lead the charge, the rest of the industry will soon catch up and bring lightweight carbon fibre vehicles to the masses.
Until recently the sector has been niche, with opportunities limited to high performance and luxury markets. Carl Dekoning, business development manager at advanced composite manufacturing company Quickstep, says the aerospace sector made the transition two decades ago, but the automotive sector is on the cusp of a complete manufacturing overhaul. There are two design streams in the burgeoning carbon fibre design industry. There’s the design process, which requires an ability to understand composite properties, moulding processes and techniques. There’s also a demand for the ability to apply design techniques to simulation tools and design software. ‘The skillsets will be in great demand not just in Australia, but globally.’ Dekoning explains that existing automotive design roles will need to be dramatically modified or changed completely because of the limitations associated with designing metal-based products. ‘We are seeing an increasing need to think outside the box in terms of traditional vehicle design,’ he says.
The market for carbon fibre reinforced plastics (CFRPs) is expected to more than double from $14.6 billion in 2012 to $36 billion in 2020, according to a Lux Report. Strap yourself in. It’s fast becoming big business, with lots of career potential. We’re seeing swift developments in a number of industry facets including materials, design and the driving experience itself. Google’s self-driving car has veered off test roads and into US streets. While the vehicle is a prototype, it’s proof that we could be travelling in autonomous vehicles in the coming years. Mr Dekoning points out that as cars become a place to relax and enjoy the ride, or get some work done while commuting, ‘There are some opportunities to consider how cars look and feel, which will create interior styling opportunities.’ He adds that Australians in this emerging field will work in global marketplaces, contributing to advances in manufacturing in Europe, North America and China.
Subscribe for a regular dose of technology, innovation, culture and personal development.