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Composite Materials for Automotive Applications


To enable automotive engineers to analyse and evaluate the use of the full range of composite materials and processes for each application, taking into account component performance, design for manufacture and assembly, light-weighting potential, manufacturing volumes, investment, LCA and reparability.


Upon successful completion participants will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a wide range of knowledge and experience of composite component strength, stiffness and impact resistance through both lectures and hands-on experience.
  2. Apply engineering design and analysis methods to evaluate the benefits of a composite component in a wide range of vehicle structural applications.
  3. Evaluate the opportunities for product enhancement and light-weighting vs. metals.
  4. Select and apply the appropriate robust and cost effective joining technologies to composite assemblies.
  5. Evaluate the appropriate composite materials and manufacturing processes for each automotive engineering application, taking into account material, tooling and infrastructure investment cost as well as environmental impact.
  6. Create an advanced component or vehicle architectural concept; selecting of the ideal material and process to give a cost of weight saving suitable for the target vehicle’s performance, packaging and structural requirements.



The entire first day of the module will be an introduction to composite science and technology.

Since every lecture throughout the rest of the module will reference the terminology and knowledge gained in day 1, none of the lectures are moveable to later in the week.

All the introduction lectures will be given by WMG staff and full glossary of terms will be made available.

Day one starts with an introduction to composites: reinforcement fibre manufacture and properties, matrix chemistries (thermoset and thermoplastic), fibre design and format.

Composite component design will include basic stiffness and strength theory, prediction of properties, fibre and matrix failure modes and fatigue failure prediction.

We will be covering in detail the processing of composites, identifying the processes relevant to automotive performance, cost and volume. This also includes tooling to suit low and high volumes.

Ashby diagrams and material ranking processes will be used to provide comparison with metals for structural applications. A briefing on health and safety will covers the requirements for composite manufacture and handling and machining.

N.B. The sequence of lectures throughout the rest of the module is less critical, with flexibility built-in to allow for availability of guest lecturers and/or illness.



With the use of a timeline we will discuss the history of automotive composites applications from WW2 to present day, in particular addressing changes in material availability and cost. Choice of materials was originally driven by steel shortages, low investment and short lead time, choice is now driven by vehicle performance, CO2 reduction and product enhancement.

The vehicle manufacturer case studies will look at the strategies of three very different OEMs (GM, Lotus and BMW), comparing and contrasting the processes and production technologies for low, medium and high volume production, as well as understanding the difficulties faced by the early adopters (i.e. GM and Lotus).

Followed by a hands-on session in the lab making moulded components by different processing routes.



Lectures include: composite sustainability (energy to manufacture, recycling, LCA), natural composites (fibres and resins), CAE methods for composites and reparability (repair /replace strategies).

In the test lab students will prepare and test samples from the components they manufactured earlier in the week to determine mechanical properties and failure modes. Impact performance and energy absorption will be evaluated. Analysis methods to include microscopy.



Vehicle case studies will look in detail at three vehicles each considered at the time to be a composite manufacturing breakthrough. To include: vehicle architecture, materials and processes as well as the finished vehicle’s position/success in the market.

Advanced composites – components that demonstrate extreme weight saving, typically 60-80%, for example automotive crash elements and spring components.

Group activity: The group have to consider the manufacturing processes for a component of a future vehicle, taking into consideration the volume, lead time, investment, process cycle time, maturity of process, supply chain (i.e. bought-in or in-house), opportunities for weight saving, quality issues and cost. The group will present their findings on Friday afternoon.



The composite joining lecture considers both composite to composite joining for larger monocoque type assemblies as well as multi-materials joining to conventional metal BiW.

Advanced Composite Modelling Methods will be presented by an external lecturer who will describe the development of robust predictive models.

Past and current experience automotive composite research at WMG, followed by a guest lecturer to discuss past and current automotive composite applications at JLR.

Group activity – presentation of results followed by group discussion.


Group Presentation (20% weighting)

Post Module Assessment - 6,000 words (80% weighting)


1 week, including 24.5 hours of lectures and 7 hours of workshops