A wheel arch made from fibre sounds unlikely….

A wheel arch made from fibre sounds unlikely but our latest innovation has made this a reality for a high-performance sports car.

We recently launched Synergex – a range of advanced composite fibres with high levels of hybrid fibre integrity and performance that can be processed into fabric form using technologies such as commingling and twisting.

What this means in simple terms is the ability to take a soft material and turn it into something hard: an innovation that paves the way for a market shift from metal to textile composites and a potential boon to industries like wind, automotive, aerospace and sporting goods. The advantage lies in an acceleration of the manufacturing process since – rather than using resins or autoclave – the composite fibre can be embroidered into complex shapes and the final parts metal pressed.

Coats Speciality developed the fibre using its state of the art carbon room at our Sevier site in North Carolina, US. Here we commingle carbon, aramid or glass fibres together with various thermoplastic fibres, resulting in the production of flexible thermoplastic prepregs which end up as advanced thermoplastic parts for industry. Also twisting carbon or comingled yarns, sometimes with other reinforced fibres such as fibreglass, para-aramids and steel, we are able to produce custom hybrid yarns for specific industry needs.

The range of Synergex yarns offers customers a commercially desirable balance of strength, weight and performance, as well as recyclability. It was these qualities that British sports car maker Elemental was looking for in the production of its Rp1 sports car and the company has since teamed up with Coats to use Synergex in its latest wheel arch.

According to Elemental’s Composite Director Peter Kent, Synergex met all the challenges presented by the wheel arch’s need to be ‘lightweight, extremely robust and flexible’ as well as the ability to create the complex shape of the part, which has several corner bends.

The wheel arch is made in four steps.

  • The carbon fibre and nylon are blended together to create a single commingled yarn.
  • This is embroidered into shape using a Tailored Fibre Placement (TFP) preforming process.
  • Once the shape is precisely stitched, it is placed in a machine mould and pressed to form the wheel arch in less than one minute.
  • The final parts are then trimmed to a high standard.

This collaboration is the first fully functional example of using this process to create a thermoplastic composite part for a high-performance automotive application. It is also a good example of the way our research and development function works with industry and outside bodies to come up with innovative ways to support and nudge production into new areas.

In developing Synergex’s range of composite yarns, we not only worked with Elemental, but also with The Institute of Aircraft Design at the University of Stuttgart and with specialist multi-axis machining company, Shape Machining, as well as Portuguese mould makers Optimal.