Lightweight revolution: Creating strong, versatile and affordable automotive structures – 23/12/2020
Lightweighting is a major trend in the automotive industry, enabling greater efficiency and higher performance. However, the focus for lightweight materials is often on high-budget premium vehicles and performance cars.
Stalcom is looking to change that. The Worcestershire company has developed a series of joining methods that can be used to create a wide range of different vehicle structures out of affordable composites and lightweight metals. This not only has the potential to reduce weight, but also to increase the recycled material content in the design and bring down the cost of market entry for lightweight vehicles.
The company secured a place on the APC’s Technology Developer Accelerator Programme (TDAP) to develop two key technologies: The first is Flex-tech, a system of aluminium extrusions with a unique interlocking joint system that allows rapid and low-cost development of spaceframe structures. The second is PowderBond, a specially-formulated powdercoat that enables affordable composites such as polypropylene to be joined to aluminium structures using heat and pressure, with the resulting joint said to be four times stronger than a traditional adhesive system.
Both technologies had already been taken to proof of concept level, but they needed further testing and development to reach commercialisation. As part of TDAP, the APC provided over £100,000 of grant funding, as well as access to industry experts who could offer support and feedback.
“We had lots of ideas and lots of potential opportunities, but we needed the help of the experts at the APC to focus on specific concepts that would allow us to take our technology to market in a fast and successful way,” comments Stalcom Managing Director Bob Mustard. “One thing that soon became obvious was that if we wanted to build full vehicle structures with the more experimental technology, PowderBond, we would need to have more characterisation carried out.”
Alongside validating the technologies and collecting data for potential customers, TDAP helped the company to put measures in place to protect its intellectual property. Two patents arose directly from the project, along with two new registered trademarks and a full marketing plan. Findings from the TDAP work also helped to accelerate the parallel development of a flexible lightweight electric vehicle platform, Stalcom FVA, which has led to multiple project enquiries.
Following on from TDAP, the company is planning to expand its engineering and technical support teams to match a ramp–up in orders. It has also established a new 4,040-square foot manufacturing facility.