Large-scale project for carbon fiber repair takes off

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  • Development of infrastructure for repair of CRP-based series vehicles
  • Project follows the Industry 4.0 principles
  • Seven institutes and fifty industrial companies participate

The increasing use of fibre-reinforced plastics (FRP) in automotive construction is giving the automotive industry and vehicle workshops the challenge of providing economical repair methods. At RWTH Aachen University and in close cooperation with seven research institutes and around fifty industrial companies, new technologies are being developed for identifying and assessing damage. The project also covers the customised production of repair materials, so-called patches, and the actual carrying out of the repair, including quality assurance.

Vehicle concepts are opting increasingly for FRP

The background behind this research initiative is that new vehicle concepts are opting increasingly for FRP and especially carbon-reinforced plastics (CRP). Advances in the efficiency of the production plants and a reduction in cycle times have resulted in FRP also being increasingly used in the large-volume series production of vehicles. Furthermore, the pressure from legislators to reduce CO2 emissions means that lightweight construction materials such as composites are being deployed in ever more vehicles.

The challenges of repairing FRP parts

When it comes to repairing FRP parts in ultra-small series, the established method of eliminating the damage is to either replace the entire component or to repair the damage locally on the basis of expert know-how. But this is more expensive and more resource-intensive than repair processes for metal structures. The replacement of large integral structures, such as the CRP body of an electric vehicle for instance, is nowadays impossible at acceptable cost. To ensure customer acceptance, typical repair workshops must be enabled to undertake an inexpensive assessment and repair of the damage.

Project follows the Industry 4.0 principles

The project follows the Industry 4.0 principles: All elements involved in the creation of value must be designed so that they can be flexibly adapted to changing requirements and be linked in such a way that they can communicate with each other. Because of the new approach, completely new business models are generated, the development of which will also be examined.

The planned repair process

Documentation of the damage is based on the automatic fusion of data on different principles for non-destructive testing. The data are evaluated automatically and instructions are drawn up from this for dealing with the damaged area. For the repair, repair materials in the form of patches, adapted to the particular vehicle and type of damage, are manufactured by means of a system for customised mass production. The patches are subsequently sent to the workshop. The repair is then carried out using newly developed repair and quality assurance processes. Suitable support systems should in future provide the necessary assistance for tasks of this kind.

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