TOKYO — Nissan has long reserved costly carbon-fiber components to such applications as the hood and roof of its low-volume, high-performance GT-R sports car. But thanks to a production breakthrough, Nissan says it will soon deploy the lightweight material in mass-market models.
The new manufacturing process slashes the time and cost needed to make parts out of carbon fiber. Deploying it will help Nissan trim about 176 pounds, on average, from future vehicle weights.
Company executives say Nissan needs to broaden its use of carbon fiber to help it meet increasingly stringent fuel economy rules. Lighter vehicles require less energy to be propelled, and slimming down is an important way to offset the weight of heavy batteries as automakers electrify lineups.
“In the past, we used to apply [carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic] to a limited number of models. But going forward, we would like to apply it to mass production,” said Hideyuki Sakamoto, executive vice president for manufacturing and supply chain management. “And now we have visibility to do that.”
The advance comes in the molding process of carbon-fiber components, reducing the time needed from the current 10 minutes to about 2 minutes. And the use of better computer simulations halves development time to create part dies, adding to the cost savings and timesavings.
Nissan plans to use the manufacturing technique to make carbon-fiber B-pillars for a large SUV that will hit the market in 2024 or 2025, Sakamoto said. He did not name the product, but a redesign of the Armada large SUV is expected around then. Nissan has said it needs to lightweight its heavier vehicles to better comply with future emissions standards.
The new approach, called compression-resin transfer molding, speeds the process by allowing the resin that flows into the woven carbon fiber to more quickly and thoroughly permeate the material when it is being pressed between two dies in the mold.
The old way compressed the two dies very closely while injecting the resin, relying on the suction of a vacuum to spread the resin.
The new method does not compress the two dies initially. Instead, it keeps a gap of a couple millimeters between them that allows the resin to spread.
The resin is necessary because, after it hardens, it lends stiffness and shape to the carbon fiber, which is actually a fabric of woven carbon fiber strands, each thinner than a human hair.
Using compression-resin transfer molding also delivers better-quality parts with less wrinkling and fewer weak spots, which are caused when the resin hardens before it completely permeates the carbon fiber sheet.
Even though Nissan has already developed the technique, Sakamoto said he wants to further refine the process and reduce costs before leveraging it in the upcoming production vehicle.