The automotive industry is constantly looking for ways to improve vehicle design. Key goals include improving fuel efficiency by reducing vehicle weight, enhancing safety, and pushing the boundaries of performance. This drive for innovation is leading automakers to incorporate advanced high-performance materials like composite prepregs into more vehicle components.

Composite Prepregs Enable Light-Weighting

One of the most promising categories of advanced materials for automotive applications is composite prepregs. Prepregs comprise strong fiber reinforcements, like carbon fiber, which are pre-impregnated with a matrix resin system. According to the experts at AxiomMaterials.com, this results in composite materials that offer exceptionally high strength and stiffness properties while weighing much less than steel or aluminum.

The ability of prepregs to enable light-weighting of structural and load-bearing components is really important when it comes to increasing fuel efficiency. Replacing heavy metal components with lighter composite ones means vehicles can use less fuel to move the same amount of weight. Lighter weight also results in better acceleration, handling, and braking performance.

Expanding Use to Improve Crashworthiness

Besides light-weighting components like driveshafts and suspension parts, high-performance composites are being used to improve vehicle safety and crashworthiness. When a collision occurs, materials that can absorb impact energy while maintaining the structural integrity of the passenger cabin are essential.

The excellent damage tolerance and energy absorption qualities of materials like carbon fiber prepregs make them suitable for front-end structures, bumpers, door beams, and pillars that manage crash energy. This application area for lightweight composite prepregs is likely to rapidly expand in future vehicle models as automakers design for crashworthiness and passenger protection.

Enhancing Efficiency Under the Hood

Beyond chassis and body structures, advanced composite prepregs also provide under-hood benefits. Replacing metal components in powertrain and engine systems can reduce weight for better fuel economy. The high heat and corrosion resistance of composites like carbon-fiber allows their use in high-temperature environments, like turbocharger housings and intake manifolds.

Composite prepregs can also optimize airflow and heat transfer when molded into complex geometries impossible with metal fabrication. This leads to improved combustion and lower emissions. Their vibration damping qualities additionally help to reduce noise from engine and drivetrain components.

The Future is Multi-Material  

While advanced composites like prepregs will take on an increasing role, future automotive designs will rely on the strategic use of multiple materials. The ideal choice for any application will balance factors like strength, weight, cost, manufacturing feasibility and end-of-life recyclability.

Carbon fiber composite prepregs provide unmatched lightweight strength, but excessive cost limits very widespread use. Less expensive glass fibers offer sufficient properties for many uses while helping control overall vehicle price. Choice of matrix resin system is also key; thermoplastic resins can often be recycled more easily than thermosets, for example.

Automated manufacturing techniques will assist in economical production of complex composite prepreg components. But for very high production volumes, metal forming retains efficiency advantages in many non-structural applications. The solution is designing hybrid components that strategically apply different materials where each excels.

Conclusion

With mobility demands growing globally, the push for material and technological innovations in the automotive sector will continue at a rapid pace. Advanced high-performance composites like prepregs will surely expand applications across future vehicle models, but as part of a suite of solutions. Automakers taking a multi-material approach focused on total vehicle optimization will lead the way forward.

While individual technologies like carbon fiber prepregs provide major advances, the greatest benefits will emerge from holistic vehicle design that strategically selects the ideal material for each application across chassis, body structure, and powertrain components. Leveraging lightweight composites along with further innovations in hybrid propulsion, connectivity and autonomy means manufacturers can deliver major improvements in performance, safety, environmental impact, and passenger experience into the foreseeable future.