Ford and Magna’s carbon fiber subframe project offers amazing green potential

Article by Christian A., on March 17, 2017

After years and years of cars being built and developed, Ford and Magna joint forces and developed a carbon fiber subframe that will reduce as much as 34% of a steel subframe’s weight. The developers recently unveiled a prototype of this.

What difference does it make, you ask? With a much lighter car, fuel consumption will dramatically decrease. Who doesn’t want that? Not only will it save us a few dollars, we can also save the planet by reducing our carbon footprint. In fact, the biggest car companies have been leaning towards building lighter vehicles by exploring other options such as aluminum engines, optimized chassis components, and probably the most common nowadays, carbon fiber panels for the car’s structure and exterior.

Another great thing about this development, according to sources, is that a carbon fiber subframe only uses a few parts - with two molded and four metallic components. Compare that with a standard steel equivalent which uses 45 steel part (thus the 34% weight difference). So imagine, from 45 parts down to only 6 parts.

Furthermore, the new design has already gone through a computer-aided engineering (CAE) analysis, and so far, it has passed all the performance requirements. The next step is for Magna to build duplicates of the prototype and test the subframes on actual Ford vehicles. And during these tests, engineers will have to assess certain things that can’t be calculated by computed-simulated analysis, such as corrosion and stone chipping. Like any other component that goes through the development phase, experts will have to provide design recommendations and assembly processes, based on the studies they will gain from the tests.

President of Magna Exteriors, Grahame Burrow explained that it is a great opportunity for them to fully support their projects by working closely with a company during the design and engineering processes. Partnering with Ford Motors in developing the carbon fiber subframe gives them a better picture of what they can do for, and with, their clients. In this case, there’s a ton of potential in building much lighter subframes that will not take a toll on the design and performance of the vehicles. Nevertheless, they’ve stuck to the brand’s specific style and character. It’s basically a win-win situation for both ends.

But people might ask. Are there any downsides to this development? At this point in time, it is too early for us to point out any limitations of the carbon fiber subframe yet, as it will still go through tests, like I mentioned earlier. However, this is indeed exciting news for everyone in the auto industry.

Press Release

Magna Brings Carbon Fiber Composites into Vehicle Structure with Innovative Subframe

In pursuit of lower vehicle weight to reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency, Magna International Inc., in cooperation with Ford Motor Company, developed a prototype carbon fiber composite subframe which reduces mass by 34 percent compared to making a stamped steel equivalent.

By replacing 45 steel parts with two molded and four metallic parts, the prototype subframe achieves a dramatic 87 percent reduction in the number of parts. The moldings are joined by adhesive bonding and structural rivets.

The carbon fiber subframe is the result of a research and development project between Magna and Ford to investigate potential mass-reduction benefits and technical challenges of using carbon fiber-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.

"When we are able to work in close partnership with a customer at the beginning of their design and engineering processes, it's an opportunity to bring our full Magna capabilities to bear," said Grahame Burrow, President of Magna Exteriors, speaking at JEC World 2017 in Paris. "We are able to take a clean-sheet approach with design, materials and processing, collaborate with the customer and within our product groups, and deliver a solution with the potential to really move the needle in terms of aggressive lightweighting without sacrificing styling or performance."

Magna's engineering team – a collaborative effort between the company's body & chassis and exteriors product groups – combined its unique, full-vehicle knowledge on the design, materials and processing to address the challenge of reducing weight using composite materials and manufacturing processes.

The design has 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.

"Collaboration is the key to success in designing lightweight components that can give our customers fuel economy improvements without compromising ride and handling, durability or safety. We must continue to work hard to achieve these lightweight solutions at the most affordable costs. Magna and Ford working together on this carbon fiber composite subframe is a great example of collaboration on advanced materials," said Mike Whitens, Director of Vehicle Enterprise Systems within Ford Research and Advanced Engineering.

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.

"We've been a pioneer in the use of lightweight materials for many years now," added Burrow. "First we launched the CF hood for the Cadillac CTS/ATS-V series, followed by a carbon fiber grille opening reinforcement for the Mustang Shelby Cobra GT500. Applying our expertise now to a structural component like the subframe is another step forward as we continue to help our OEM partners meet their goals."

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