The new technology allows vehicle manufactures to use the lightweight materials in places that have previously not been possible, such as aerodynamic aids near exhaust pipes or the exhaust shrouds themselves.
The automotive industry is increasingly adopting composite components, largely to meet strict emissions regulations but also due to consumer demand for the aesthetic qualities of the materials. However, using composites close to heat sources has previously required some form of heat shielding, which adds components and is largely unaccepted by vehicle manufacturers looking to maintain the aesthetics of visible surfaces.
“With new manufacturing techniques starting to make carbon composites more affordable, the material is increasingly offering an ideal solution where high strength must be combined with light weight,” explains Graeme Barette, Zircotec Group Director. “One of the barriers to adoption continues to be the material’s vulnerability to high temperatures. This new technique is the result of a request from a vehicle manufacturer to solve this challenge and is now fully validated and ready to roll-out in higher volumes.”
The technology is an evolution of Zircotec’s proven plasma-applied ceramic coating, a result of development carried out at the company’s in-house R&D facility.
The chemistry of the compound and the application process has been significantly modified specifically for application to composite materials.
“With combustion temperatures rising and more heat being retained in the exhaust to ensure efficient operation of turbocharging and after treatment systems, temperatures are not only rising under the bonnet, heat is also being carried back further than ever before,” adds Barette.
“That can be a problem in areas like air channelling at the rear of the car, where prolonged exposure to high temperature exhaust gasses can discolour and degrade the superb finishes expected by the owners of luxury and high-performance vehicles.”
The high-quality finish required for A Class surfaces has been achieved through specially-developed, high-precision automation of the application process and thorough quality control techniques. The automation ensures a consistent finish that meets OEM standards and enables the company to process 100,000 parts a year.
The coating has been extensively trialled with a number of Europe’s most demanding vehicle manufacturers and is now available for wider application.