Magazine December 2011

All the Latest Information from the Textile World

Just an image

Automotive textile applications at a glance

Applications for textiles in cars are highly diverse. The articles provide more details as well as specific examples from the different product groups.

Priority for diversity

The BMW i8, the Volkswagen Nils and Up, the Opel Ampera and RAK e, the Smart Forvision: all these brand-new production-ready vehicles and studies drew huge crowds at this year's International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt. They all share an interesting technological basis in that - either as an alternative or in addition to diesel or petrol - they make use of different drive concepts. The key term here is electromobility.

The current state of technology only enables conventional vehicles to be replaced by purely battery-driven models under certain conditions. The power only lasts for a maximum of 150 kilometres, after which the vehicle has to be recharged for several hours at a time. Many experts believe that the fuel cell has more potential here. With the help of hydrogen, it generates the power for driving the electric motor - and is completely emission-free.

Enormous weight benefits thanks to textiles

Apart from their ecological benefits, the new drive concepts do however add a considerable amount of additional weight. This means that weight has to be saved in other areas - and here, textiles are the right choice. As compound materials, such as carbon fibre, their low weight and high rigidity give them impressive performance features. They are stronger than steel and around one-third lighter than aluminium.

Fibre-plastic composites are already being used in numerous automotive applications today: for chassis components, vehicle roofs, bumpers, rear doors or bonnets. The combination of approx. 60 % carbon fibres with epoxy resin leads to weight optimisation, thereby reducing fuel consumption.

The proportion of textiles used in the production of a car will continue to increase. The figure currently lies at roughly 20 kg. The Textile Research Board predicts an average figure of 30 kg for the year 2015. This increase is of course releasing a vast amount of potential along the full length of the textile value-added chain.

Visually as well as technologically attractive – the GIN

Back in 2004, with its GINA Light study, BMW demonstrated how textile solutions can revolutionise a car. "GINA" is an acronym for the principle of "Geometry and Functions in 'N' Adaptations." The special thing about this study is the outer fabric skin used, which has hardly any joins. It gives the model a unique, "cast in one piece" look. Unlike a metal chassis, which is segmented into almost ten sections, here there are only four sections of outer skin stretched taut across the vehicle exterior. The structure beneath the skin is flexible, which is why the material has to fulfil the most stringent requirements.

A date has not yet been set on when the GINA Light study will be ready for series production, but BMW is already planning its first carbon-fibre-chassis models for the year 2013.

Further areas of application

Apart from reducing a vehicle's weight and fuel consumption, technical textiles also provide value-added. Moving from the chassis into the vehicle interior, the integration of microsystem-technical components can tangibly improve in-car comfort and acoustics. The climate control can be designed more efficiently using spacer textiles and, to improve noise insulation, new recyclable compound materials can be used in the form of tiles, flocked surfaces or membranes.

Textiles can also help to increase passive safety inside cars. In the medium term, for instance, safety textiles in tyres can warn of damage, or adaptive textile shock absorbers can be used. The possibilities are highly diverse and far-ranging - as with almost everything in the textile world.

Ecology and economy as the driving forces

In developing and emerging countries, too, individual traffic is steadily on the increase. This is why it will be crucial to considerably reduce energy consumption and emissions per vehicle and kilometre to prevent excessive damage to the environment.

In spite of new concepts and technological approaches, innovative textile applications can only go into series production in cars if economically efficient production is assured. Science and industry are therefore focusing on new joining techniques to keep production costs as low as possible. Moreover it is important to modify compound materials in such a way that they can be processed even more effectively by means of existing technologies.

These lines of approach are also being worked on by Groz-Beckert together with its partners in the Technology and Development Centre (TEZ). More information on the solutions being opened up by the company in the automotive textiles sector can be found in other articles in this Online Newsletter.