Ground breaking technology that truly moves the global automotive industry
doesn't come along often. In such a massive and highly sophisticated sector,
serious innovations are almost always the work of the major players in Europe or
the USA. Anomalies and exceptions to this are rare, particularly in the areas of
light-weighting and true performance enhancement.
Carbon Revolution CR-9 Front wheel. (PRNewsFoto/Carbon Revolution)
Over the past 7 years just such an anomaly has been created by a group that
has remained ferociously independent of any global OEM. An Australian based
venture has succeeded in solving one of the last remaining holy grails of the
industry - A full one-piece carbon fiber composite wheel. This has been achieved
through a remarkable series of partnerships and the assembly of an unrivalled
group of technical and industrial talent.
The company's name is Carbon Revolution and the Product is the CR9.
It started as an independently run R&D program in close collaboration
with a leading research institution. This rapidly evolved into a highly focused
and effective group of leading engineers, scientists and industrialists within a
tightly managed innovation cell. This group has met both the product design
challenge as well as the manufacturing challenge head-on.
The results are staggering. The wheels are 40% -50% lighter than premium OEM
equivalents made from Aluminum, yet they are exceeding OEM standards in
laboratories and on testing tracks around the world. Breathtaking improvements
in acceleration, braking, ride and handling have handed the driver a
significantly improved vehicle with an extra chunk of horsepower, and a huge
fuel efficiency gain.
The manufacturing process is highly efficient and controllable. It has merged
the rigor of aerospace processes with the efficiency and control of high volume
automotive production. The full scale production lines will be fully automated -
human interaction will be limited to the supervision of sophisticated machinery
and robotic equipment. Achieving global OEM standards for component supply
(TS16949) is just part of the overall world class approach to quality and
process control. This approach has attracted strong support and funding from the
Australian Government under its $5.4 billion New Car Plan.
The wheels are constructed from continuous fiber, so the phenomenal strength
and stiffness characteristics of carbon fiber are optimized. Computational
modeling techniques including full vehicle dynamic modeling and finite element
analysis (FEA) reflect the primary research backgrounds and passion of the
founders. So advanced is the approach that Carbon Revolution is now working
closely with specialist FEA partners to develop new and better approaches to
accurately modeling the specific properties of carbon fibers. This is to account
for the vastly more complex behavior of fiber laminates versus cast or forged
metals. The group is now achieving computational simulations that are so closely
correlated to reality that product development timeframes are being dramatically
shortened. It's far from being a typical 'build and break' development process.
The team has designed and patented a highly sophisticated bolted joint system
which elegantly solves the challenges of attaching composites to metals under
dynamic loading conditions. Advanced aerospace alloys are combined with the
carbon fiber to ensure that the 'bolted joint' element of the technology is as
highly engineered as its composite structure.
It's easy to see why such a rigorous and sophisticated approach has been
possible when you consider the origins of this team. Amongst the founders and
subsequent hires are ex-OEM senior engineers from chassis development and drive
train roles, senior manufacturing executives from component suppliers including
Bosch, converts from Boeing's renowned Phantom Works innovation cell, industrial
composites manufacturing specialists and numerous PhD's with world leading
materials and structures knowledge. In addition to this, Carbon Revolution has
numerous formal partnerships for technology development and product testing
around the world. This includes Deakin University and RMIT in Australia,
respectively the pre-eminent materials sciences and aerospace technology
institutes in the region.
Carbon Revolution conducted much of the early laboratory testing in Germany
using techniques and test rigs that are favored by OEMs over the common industry
tests. This approach has ensured that the most rigorous standards imposed by
European OEMs have been tested for in the best German laboratories. They could
not have set the bar higher than this.
Outside the lab, the team has favored a multi-region approach to accumulating
miles in the field. The Nurburgring is favored for limit handling and durability
trials, Hockenheim for closed track, whilst Route 66 in the USA is the choice
for extended rough road durability miles. A host of other locations have also
been used in the quest for the most complete and comprehensive validation
Carbon Revolution has teamed up with automotive industry veteran and luminary
Bill Koenig of Manhattan Beach, California who has taken on the role of
educating the market further about this technology. "Bill has the right level of
passion and a true understanding of what this technology can really deliver to a
driver. He is the ideal match for our team as we move into the market with our
first product" says Brett Gass, one of the Founders and the Engineering Director
at Carbon Revolution. Gass is now based in Germany where the company has
established an office to service the automotive industry across Europe. As an
internationally recognized expert in ride and handling, and with a long history
inside OEMs, he manages all technical aspects of that relationship to ensure
that customers 'get it'.
Carbon Revolution is in the process of commissioning its first commercial
production line. Much of the capacity of this line will be used in further
development work across the automotive OEM, Aerospace and Industrial sectors,
but a small number of wheels will be available to the market globally over the
coming months. The word is out and you can expect to hear more about product
launches in 2012.