Composites are Engineers Best Friends! This post is the first in the series of Stratview Research’s articles on “Attractive Composite Applications”.
Transportation industry, which is the backbone of the global economy, has been fasting rigorously for the past few years now. The vehicles are being put on diet with the governments across the globe pressing for improvement in fuel efficiency.
The regulations like CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) have set the benchmark of emissions across the world. The world today is serious about its commitment to reduce emissions.
Composites are apparently one of the favourite ingredients in the automotive industry’s high-strength diet plan. Composite was used in cars like the Chevrolet Corvette, as early as the 1950s; seven decades hence the penetration of composites remains quite low. But a lot has changed with time and we have come to a point in time where the speed of change is much higher than ever before. The coming decade seems to hold the key to composites!
Automotive industry is now one of the leading consumers of composites with the annual demand of composite materials to reach over $15.5 billion by the year 2024. (Source – Automotive Composites Market Study)
Composites now find usage in all the major application areas in an automobile including the interior, exterior, and under the hood applications.
Here is the sneak peek of the composite applications in a car.
We are bringing an exclusive white paper on automotive composites market for our readers soon. Like & follow our page for updates.
Composites Usage Spring up in Leaf Springs
Composites are spreading their wings by adding new applications under their ambit. Earlier, the forte of steel, the Leaf Springs now have caught hold of attention of the composites industry.
The earliest automotive application of spring finds its origin in Roman ingenuity. They used leaf springs to dampen the shocks to their chariots; or possibly even before it, in the fabled chariots of Egyptian demigod Tutankhamun.
Owing to their capacity to bear massive weights, leaf springs have become an inalienable part of the transportation industry. Leaf springs can be categorised as; Parabolic leaf spring and Multi-leaf leaf springs. Parabolic leaf spring is a single leaf spring, mostly used in the front axle, but the adaptation at the rear side has been seen recently. Multi-leaf spring has a set of leafs one on top of the other, they can support greater loads compared to the mono-leaf springs and provide higher spring rates with lesser rates for rebounds which is useful in supporting and controlling a vehicle’s axle wrap-up. Nearly two-thirds of the vehicles have multi-leaf leaf springs installed on them, as per our research published on automotive leaf springs market prospects.
Composite leaf springs offer multitude of benefits over steel counterparts.
Weighing as low as 1/7th of steel leaf springs, composite leaf springs are
Have a look at the chart below to understand the magnitude of weight reduction offered by composites in leaf spring application.
Leaf springs are generally made up of either steel or composites. At present, composite leaf spring occupies a lilliputian share of <0.5 percent of the total leaf springs market, but its market is growing impressively to register a sales figure of over USD 90 million by 2024.
Leaf springs can be installed longitudinally or transversally. Longitudinal leaf springs are used mainly on rigid axles, commonly on commercial vehicles and trailers. Transverse leaf springs, in contrast, can provide the springing on both sides of the axle. The longitudinal leaf springs are more exposed to impact from the outside than transverse springs. Composite leaf springs find usage mostly in transversal position.
The automotive industry has been noticing an increasing penetration of composite leaf springs, particularly in passenger cars and LCVs. Current market statistics suggests that almost two-thirds of the composite leaf springs (by value) are installed in LCVs, followed by passenger cars and M&HCVs.
Chevrolet Corvette, Daimler Sprinter, Volvo XC90, Volkswagen Crafter, Fiat Ducato, Range Rover, and Iveco Daily are some of the major light vehicle models using composite leaf springs either on front or rear or both areas.
Auto OEMs which are familiar with the advantages of composite leaf spring are mustering efforts for increasing its usage in their other models.
Volvo offers an apt case. Following the successful introduction of lightweight composite tansverse leaf spring on its premium crossover SUV, the XC90, the OEM started using the innovative concept on its new S90 luxury sedan and V90 station wagon models. In all three models, the transverse leaf spring incorporated into the rear suspension is said to save a significant 4.5 kg, compared to steel coil springs normally used in cars.
As per the news, the development of this composite leaf spring was enabled by Henkel’s Loctite MAX 2 flagship two-component polyurethane composite matrix resin system and was produced by Benteler-SGL (Now SGL Carbon) using high-speed resin transfer moulding (RTM).
Recently, SGL Carbon started producing longitudinal leaf springs made of glass fiber-based composite for Ford Transit rear axles in series. It is the first glass fiber-based leaf spring project in series by Ford worldwide. The springs are used in combination with the Transit Skeleton chassis. The innovative composite leaf spring weighs about 50 percent less while offering increased security standards, compared to the conventional leaf springs. For the first time ever, the leaf springs are manufactured on the basis of pre-impregnated glass fiber fabrics produced at the SGL Carbon site in Willich, as per the news reported by SGL Carbon.
In a similar collaborative effort to achieve automotive lightweighting, Kordsa started working with Ford Otosan to develop composite leaf springs for heavy trucks. According to the news, Kordsa and Ford Otosan chose prepreg compression molding as it delivers homogeneous resin distribution and optimized stiffness via improved fiber alignment with less distortion and reduced thickness variation. The final prototype was 75% lighter than steel counterpart, while increasing tensile strength, compression strength, and fatigue resistance.
When it comes to lightweighting and green initiatives, Europe is always at the helm with major developments and early adopters. Composite leaf springs market has a major chunk of sales happening in Europe. Along with North America, Europe captures almost 90% of the market share. LCVs dominate the demand for composite leaf springs in the European region with Daimler Sprinter, Volkswagen Crafter, and Fiat Ducato as the major auto models.
Germany, the US, Italy, Sweden, and South Korea are the top 5 countries leading the charts in sales value, together accounting for major market share.
Asia-Pacific currently lags in composite leaf springs market. China with assembly plants of Volvo and South Korea with assembly of Hyundai leads the Asian pack.
Jamna Auto Industries Ltd. (JAI) is currently working hard for the development of composite leaf springs for Indian automakers as well as for export markets.
The global market for composite leaf springs is oligopolistic in nature. Liteflex LLC, SGL Carbon, and IFC Composite are the top 3 players capturing >90% share in 2019. All these players have developed entirely different manufacturing processes to produce composite leaf springs for the automotive industry. Some of the other players are Jamna Auto Industries, Mubea, HyperCo, Hendrickson, ARC Industries, and Flex-Form.
Last five years have been impressive for composite leaf springs with lot of innovations and product launches across the value chain.
The development of glass fiber-reinforced composite leaf spring for a 40 ton truck by IFC Composite, resulting in a weight reduction of over 400 kg, proves indubitably the merit of using composite leaf springs.
On 23 Jan, 2018 Liteflex Composite Spring Announced to launch a new product “ Helper Spring” with less weight for Chevrolet Suburban, capable of driving a smooth and safe ride.
Jamna Auto Industries( JAI) Launches new light weight suspensions and composite spring along with three new suspension system on 28th march, 2018.
Liteflex Composite Spring, recently developed a “SimilAir Composite Leaf Spring” which reduces weight by 84 pounds per axle. SimilAir springs are 150 pounds than a typical air ride system and 50 -75% lighter than steel.
The part fabricators and material suppliers are working in sync with OEMs. Recently SGL Carbon, one of the market leaders, reached a milestone in the history of serial production of composite components by delivering its millionth composite leaf spring to Volvo Cars (Gothenburg, Sweden). The leaf spring is part of Volvo Car’s global SPA vehicle platform and is used in a range of models. As per the news, SGL Carbon is said to be implementing similar concepts together with other car manufacturers from Europe and North America.
Composites have obviously their own bottlenecks in terms of lack of standardization and fast manufacturing processes when compared with steel. However, such technological developments and collaborations are going to open new vistas of growth for composites in leaf springs market space.