Automotive tie-ups: Magna/Ford for composite subframe; Henkel/Benteler-SGL for Volvo leaf springs; Evonik/Forward Engineering for Vestaro jv

Lightweighting is a big issue in the automotive industry with various companies working towards lighter weight materials, such as carbon fibre composites.


Thus, Magna International, in cooperation with Ford Motor Company, developed a prototype carbon fibre composite subframe, which reduces mass by 34%, compared to making a stamped steel equivalent. By replacing 45 steel parts with two moulded and four metallic parts, the prototype subframe achieves a 87% reduction in the number of parts. The mouldings are joined by adhesive bonding and structural rivets.

The carbon fibre subframe is the result of R&D between Magna and Ford to investigate potential mass-reduction benefits and technical challenges of using carbon fibre-reinforced composites in chassis applications. The subframe is a key part of a vehicle's structure, typically providing a place to attach the engine and wheels while also contributing rigidity and crash management.

The design is said to have passed all performance requirements based on computer-aided engineering (CAE) analyses. The prototype subframes are now being produced by Magna for component and vehicle-level testing at Ford.

The testing phase will evaluate corrosion, stone chipping and bolt load retention, which aren't currently measured by CAE. The project team will also develop a recommended design, manufacturing and assembly process with the experience gained during the prototype build and subsequent testing.

Magna also pioneered the CF hood for the Cadillac CTS/ATS-V series, followed by a carbon fibre grille opening reinforcement for the Mustang Shelby Cobra GT500.

Meanwhile, Volvo is adopting high performance, lightweight composite transverse leaf springs for more models following their successful introduction several months ago on its premium crossover SUV, the XC90. Volvo is now also using the concept on its new S90 luxury sedan and V90 station wagon models.


Henkel’s Loctite MAX 2 flagship two-component polyurethane composite matrix resin system has proved fundamental in enabling the development of this leaf spring, produced by Benteler-SGL using high-speed resin transfer moulding (RTM). Total volumes could reach close to 200,000/year by the end of 2017.

In all three car models, the transverse leaf spring incorporated into the rear suspension saves a significant 4.5 kg compared to steel coil springs normally used in cars, leading to an important improvement in fuel efficiency and a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. The leaf spring also helps provide a smoother ride and improved NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) behaviour. Furthermore, by eliminating coil springs that would otherwise protrude into the trunk area, the transverse leaf spring leaves more space for luggage. Volvo operates on the basis of what it calls the “Scalable Platform Architecture” (SPA) principle, which makes it possible for innovative concepts that are successfully implemented on one vehicle to be easily adapted for use on other models.

Henkel says the low viscosity of Loctite MAX 2 enables it to rapidly fill the mould and impregnate the fibre preform without disturbing its positioning. Its high cure rate — substantially faster than epoxy resins — further adds to the speed of production. This cooperation was further facilitated last year with the opening of Henkel’s Composite Lab facility in Heidelberg, Germany.


In related news, speciality chemical firm Evonik Industries (49%) and development partner for composite parts Forward Engineering (51%) have established a joint venture Vestaro GmbH. With this project, the two companies intend to drive forward the implementation of composite solutions for the industrial mass production of fibre composite components for the automotive industry. “

Evonik is contributing its expertise in amine hardeners (Vestamin) for epoxy resin formulations and isocyanate (Vestanat) for polyurethane formulations to the material developments of the new company. This is combined with the development know-how of Forward Engineering (previously the engineering division of Roding Automobile GmbH) in composite construction.


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