Australian advanced materials company Quickstep is investigating the use of its patented Resin Spray Transmission (RST) technology to mass produce composite parts with a Class A finish. Quickstep is working with German car manufacturing line designer EDAG to ensure the development of RST technology is in line with the needs of the automotive industry.

Using RST, Quickstep has successfully manufactured a ‘proof-of-concept’ painted carbon fibre composite flat panel to Class A automotive quality.

The panels are reported to exhibit high quality, with non-destructive ultrasonic scans confirming specifications well within automotive industry standards.They also achieved outstanding surface finish straight out of the mould, meeting the demands for exterior Class A automotive body panels without the need for additional finishing.

In addition, RST should enable the manufacture of automotive parts in minutes rather than hours, at costs that are comparable to steel in vehicles with low to medium production volumes. This is possible because Quickstep is able to manufacture using dry carbon fibre (as opposed to prepreg material, which requires expensive storage and handling) as well as its ability to use inexpensive rapid-curing resins with high exotherm, as the Quickstep Process is able to dissipate the exotherm extremely efficiently.

Quickstep Managing Director Philippe Odouard says the successful development of RST for automotive parts represents an enormous opportunity for the company.

“The ability to provide a fast and inexpensive automated manufacturing solution for automotive-quality parts would transform the company. The production of proof-of-concept panels using RST represents the first milestone towards achieving this goal, and we are moving ahead with further development work.”

“These first test panels prove the process concept and confirm our technology is able to meet the quality and surface finish requirements of the automotive industry," he continues. "Our next efforts will focus on addressing the challenges of producing representative geometries, working with different material systems and industrialising the production prototype.”

Automotive composites

According to Quickstep, the automotive industry is currently undergoing a massive shift towards the use of lightweight composite components to help combat increasing fuel prices, carbon emission trading schemes and pollution regulations worldwide.

New US regulations stipulate that all new cars from 2017 must consume less than 6.5 litres per 100 km. By comparison, a 2011 BMW 535i has fuel consumption of 8.5 litres per 100 km.

One of the routes to achieve this objective is through significant weight reduction, made possible by carbon fibre composites, which offer similar stiffness to steel at 60-75% lower weight.

However, a key barrier to the take-up of carbon fibre automotive parts has been the significant costs and timeframes required to achieve the necessary Class A exterior finish – which has traditionally seen carbon fibre only used on expensive, high performance vehicles.

Quickstep displayed its first RST-manufactured painted panels at the JEC Composites Show in Paris last month.

Quickstep’s RST development programme is being undertaken as part of the company’s Climate Ready project, which has received a $2.6 million grant from the Australian Federal Government.