Interview with Nir Kahn and Andrea Hohmann, Two Speakers at GALM Europe 2016

Andrea Hohmann (Click For .PDF of Interview)

1) Andrea, can you give us a brief introduction to your background and your current activities?

During my aerospace engineering studies at the University of Stuttgart, my focus was on lightweight design and the evaluation of different CFRP process technologies. After my graduation I started working at one of the largest research institutions in Germany, namely the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft. The scope of our institute in Augsburg (Institute for Functional Lightweight Design) is the applied research in the field of intelligent lightweight design and automated production processes for the cost- and energy-efficient production of high-performance fiber composite structures for automotive and mechanical engineering. As the teamleader of the working group “LCA and LCCA”, Since 2013 I am responsible for the life cycle characterisations (ecological and economical) of CFRP process chains. Our goal is not only to evaluate the technologies but also to identify those parameters with a high optimisation potential.

2) What is the most exciting project you've worked on lately?

As a researcher it is always exciting to get a detailed insight into a technology. The project MAI Enviro, the results of which I am going to present at the conference, allowed the analysis of more than 5 technologies in detail at once. Thus this project gave us the opportunity to gain a reliable overview of where we are standing today, and what optimisation potentials we have with new innovative process technologies regarding the environmental impact. Beside that the data we have collected and measured can be used as a database for LCA, which is currently not yet available for CFRP structures.

3) What role do you see composites to be playing within the automotive industry in the next 5 years?

The lightweight potential of composites as well as the accompanying advantages of energy and emissions savings in the use-phase, higher travel distances, etc. are well-known, especially for electrically powered vehicles. For high-volume production and thus comprehensive application of composites in the automotive industry, there are some challenges compared to other lightweight materials, e.g. aluminum, which have to be solved. The main limitations are still the high material costs, the production wastes due to high cutting rates and the lack of re-use. There is a lot of on going research to overcome these challenges and the results look promising. However it is important to consider CFRP where relevant. Thus an automobile is composed of variously loaded structures, isotropic, biaxial or even uni-axial. In the future different lightweight materials should be applied based on the motto: use the material there, where it brings the greatest benefits.

4) Can you give us a brief overview of what you will be covering within your presentation at the 5th GALM Europe conference 2016?

In my presentation the focus will be on the environmental evaluation of different CFRP process chains, which are relevant for the automotive sector. Based on published life cycle analysis of CFRP structures, the motivation for a detailed evaluation of different CFRP process chains will be explained. After a brief overview on the analysed processes, the process of data collection will be presented and for one / two examples the results regarding the respective process inventory data will be discussed. Investigated processes are among others NCF-preforming, braiding, RTM, different placement technologies and the forming of thermoplastic CFRP sheets.
As the focus of the presentation lays on the environmental evaluation, I will also give a short introduction about the used modeling method and technical background system, e.g. used energy mix. At the end, four different thermoset-based and thermoplastic-based CFRP manufacturing scenarios will be analysed and results will be discussed in detail.

Nir Kahn (Click For .PDF of Interview)

1) Nir, could you please tell our readers a little bit about your background and your current role at Plasan?

I am a vehicle designer who has been leading vehicle design at Plasan for almost 15 years. My current position as Director of Design encompasses both the traditional (military) armoured market of Plasan, as well as our fast growing civilian automotive structural composites division. By focusing on design, and not just engineering, Plasan has demonstrated a comprehensive and creative approach to vehicle lightweighting. My role is part of a triple hit of engineering, manufacturing and vehicle design, and this has been a big differentiator for Plasan to all of our partners.

2) What are the most interesting projects have you worked on?

My most prominent projects have been in designing most of the vehicles procured by the US Government for their military over the last decade. The Navistar MaxxPro MRAP, Oshkosh M-ATV, and Oshkosh JLTV (which is replacing the iconic Humvee) were all Plasan designs that started life on my drawing table. By designing them for maximum survivability they have saved countless lives and become a common sight both on the news and in the movies. Balancing the demanding needs of large military customers while adding value through design in terms of light weight, ergonomics, comfort, safety, and yes, even aesthetics, was a major challenge. For these projects, and others for the British, Australians, and many more, we developed mass-produceable composite vehicle architectures and production techniques that we are now bringing to the passenger car market.
As is often said though, my most interesting projects are the ones that I am working on right now and cannot talk about. We revolutionised the way that armoured vehicles are designed and manufactured. We are now doing the same for cars.

3) What do you see to be the major trends within automotive lightweighting in Europe and across the globe in the next 3-5 years?

I doubt very much that we'll be seeing new models that are heavier than their predecessors any more. That trend of the last 40 years has peaked. Multi-material architectures are rapidly becoming the rule, rather than the exception. The days of the welded steel monocoque are numbered and in the short term this is being replaced by a largely aluminium/steel hybrid structure. No longer the sole domain of premium cars, this is becoming the mainstream architecture and will be found on increasing numbers of cars over the next 5 years. The recent controversies regarding the real world emissions of diesels, and the continuing shift towards vehicles with heavy battery and hybrid powertrains, have reconfirmed that more extreme lightweighting is a necessary and welcome move, improving both efficiency and handling regardless of the power source. What we'll be seeing over the next few years is advanced composites following the path that aluminium has been taking for the last 20 years; starting with premium cars and trickling down to the mainstream as production facilities are ramped up and costs fall. We are already seeing increasing use of carbon-fibre in hidden structural roles where the decision was purely engineering, rather than marketing led. This understanding that carbon-fibre can actually be the next most cost-effective way to take additional weight out of a car, rather than just an expensive luxury for supercars, or a differentiator for range-topping models, will become more accepted in the coming years.

4) Nir, your presentation at the upcoming 5th Global Automotive Lightweight Materials Europe conference will focus on the composites parts integration into aluminium/steel body. Could you give our readers a quick snapshot of what to expect without revealing too many details?

Having made that move from the homogenic steel monocoque that has been ubiquitous for the last century, to a multi-material architecture, car manufacturers now have a world of options for alternative materials. Advanced composites are not only for hang-on parts or for expensive composite monocoque tubs. They can be integrated into an aluminium/steel structure, replacing both of those metals in the places where strength and stiffness requirements are driving the thicknesses and weight up. We have been working with OEMs on integrating composite parts that are designed for cost-effective mass-production, and combining them with other materials and processes to reduce weight where it hurts the most, in the areas of the car that do most of the work in crash events. Plasan's great experience in advanced dynamic FEA of metal-composite combinations in our blast-resistant vehicles, and mass production of composite vehicles for environmentally demanding climates, has allowed us to ease concerns of an automotive industry that is understandably risk-averse. Once the "unknowns" have been turned into "knowns", many of the barriers for integrating composites into cars assembled on existing production lines have been lifted. I will be showing how concentrating advanced composites where they have the biggest weight-saving impact, and designing the vehicle so that these parts can be cost-effectively mass-produced, results in a cost/weight trade-off that is attractive not only for expensive cars.

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