BMW and SGL triple carbon fibre capacity in the US; plant largest in the world
BMW and SGL triple carbon fibre capacity in the US; plant largest in the world

German luxury auto maker BMW and carbon fibre maker SGL Group will triple production of carbon fibre to 9,000 tonnes/year, as BMW prepares to expand the use of CFRPs (carbon fibre-reinforced plastics) in its electric i and M series. BMW and SGL will invest US$200 million in the factory in Moses Lake, Washington, as part of a multi-stage investment plan to expand the number of production lines from two to six from two by early 2015, making the plant the world’s largest carbon fibre plant.

With the anticipated creation of 120 new jobs, the headcount at the joint venture in Moses Lake is going to rise from currently 80 to about 200 people. Due to the automated production processes, the expansion of the site in Moses Lake will make it possible for the BMW Group to apply carbon fibre material also in other model series in the future, at competitive costs and in large quantities.

“With its highly automated carbon fibre production and stringent quality standards, Moses Lake is setting new standards in the industry. At present, the site is the world’s fastest growing carbon fibre producer. Together with the BMW Group, we are doing pioneering work to establish CFRP as a material in large-series automotive production. In a mix of materials, CFRP offers new opportunities in lightweight construction for an eco-friendly mobility,” explained Dr. Jürgen Köhler, CEO of SGL Group.

Dr. Klaus Draeger, Board Member Purchasing and Supplier Network at BMW AG: “CFRP is a key material for the automotive industry of the 21st century. In our endeavour to identify increasingly lightweight materials in order to reduce a vehicle’s weight and thus its fuel consumption and carbon emissions, this material plays a crucial role. As part of an intelligent mix of materials, we will apply carbon also beyond our BMW i and BMW M models in the future. Thanks to the pooling of the SGL Group’s expertise and our knowledge in large-series production of CFRP components, we will be able to produce the ultra-lightweight high-tech material also for other model series, at competitive costs and in large quantities.”

The carbon fibre plant in Moses Lake is a key element in the strategy pursued by the two companies, which anticipates the industrialised large-series production of CFRP for the application in future vehicle concepts. Up to now, carbon fibre produced in Moses Lake is exclusively used for the BMW i models. Since the start of the year, the Leipzig plant has built over 5,000 BMW i3 vehicles. At present, the production output stands at 100 units a day. Furthermore, the BMW Group has been applying the ultra-lightweight high-tech material also in its BMW M models for the past ten years.

The production of carbon fibre requires a great amount of energy. Accordingly, decisive factors for the set up of the carbon fibre plant in Moses Lake included the availability of renewable hydropower as well as competitive energy costs in Washington State.

The production of carbon fibre composites for automotive manufacturing requires several process steps: The necessary precursor, which is based on polyacrylnitrile fibre, is made by a joint venture between SGL Group and the Japanese company Mitsubishi Rayon in Otake, Japan. In a next step, polyacrylnitrile fibre is turned into the actual carbon fibre in Moses Lake. This material is then processed at the second joint venture site in Wackersdorf, Germany, and turned into textile carbon fibre layers, the starting point for the production of CFRP body parts at the BMW plants in Landshut and Leipzig. In the BMW i models, CFRP already holds a significant share in the mix of materials, a first at this scope and in series production. The joint venture gives the BMW Group access to this innovative key material in the long term.

(IMA)

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