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Plastic is Fantastic – The Polystrand GT-Lite Project

by Jonathan Spiegel

 

  • Rear view mirrors

  • Anti-lock brakes

  • Front-wheel drive

  • Synchromesh transmissions

  • Composite body panels

  • Direct-shift gearboxes

  • Dual overhead camshafts

  • Traction control

  • Variable valve timing

  • All-wheel-drive

  • Aerodynamic body styling

  • Steering wheel paddle shifters

  • Drive-by-wire systems

Above, a respectable list of automotive technologies, and a list that shares a common thread. Each of these technologies, prevalent on many of today’s passenger cars, were born or developed in the competitive arena of automobile racing. Indeed, there are recent developments specifically pioneered in the motorsports field with the intention of proving their value to the passenger car industry – KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) and Flex-fuel technology are two current examples.

 

The photos in this article all represent the car in its initial state after purchase from its second owner. The car is a highly modified 1986 Honda CRX built for SCCA GT Class racing.

The racing environment is an excellent arena for the development of new technology, as it allows for components and systems to be exposed to extreme operating conditions in a controlled environment, and offers a competitive venue that rewards anything that improves performance. Enhanced acceleration, braking, handling, and fuel economy are all properties that are highly valued both on and off the racetrack. It is also a relatively low-cost method for initial testing and evaluation compared to OEM development of concept cars and pre-production testing programs. It allows a manufacturer to share a portion of the initial development cost with the racing enterprise, as well as reducing their liability exposure.

 

In 2011, the EPA, in agreement with automakers (and the state of California, of course), issued the new CAFE – Corporate Average Fuel Economy – requirements, mandating the 2025 model year goal to be 54.5 mpg. The new standards are driven by the desire to reduce emissions, and the higher the fuel efficiency, the lower the carbon footprint. While there are certainly many paths to that goal, a logical step in the right direction is mass reduction (we’ll use the terms mass and weight interchangeably here – they’re not the same but for our purposes it really doesn’t matter). If you’re an auto manufacturer, there are a lot more reasons that lighter is better. When you look at the big picture, a reduction in weight actually provides compound returns for the manufacturer.

 

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Comments
Burninator
Burninatorlink
Thursday, October 16, 2014 11:11 AM
Cool project. I look forward to seeing more.
StrangeLiform
StrangeLiformlink
Friday, October 17, 2014 1:40 AM
So you guys are making fiberglass springs? Very cool.

I remember recently hearing about the collaboration between Sogefi and Audi to produce fiberglass springs for new Audi cars. I honestly had a bit of a 'facepalm' moment when I read about that, because it is the sort of tech that seems *really* obvious in retrospect.

Can't wait to see this project come to fruition!
bigBcraig
bigBcraiglink
Sunday, October 19, 2014 1:51 PM
Long-strand thermoplastic composites good enough for use as stressed suspension components... Impressive. Just read your SAE article.

Do y'all have any openings I can send a resume for?
Jonathan Spiegel
Jonathan Spiegellink
Monday, October 20, 2014 7:42 AM
Hey bigBcraig - Actually, I'll go into more detail on the actual composites in the next segment or two. We're actually the next step beyond what they consider long-strand - we make continuous strand composites. I'm assuming you're talking about the SAE interview from the SPE/ACCE show?

Thanks for the input - this is a really fun project. What's your background?
bigBcraig
bigBcraiglink
Monday, October 20, 2014 6:37 PM
Jonathan -
I have a BSME from Georgia Tech, with coursework and internships focusing in composites. Also was the suspension & chassis lead for the FSAE team. So this project really caught my attention as it lines up very much with the things I find most interesting. I also seem to be fairly well-skilled at breaking Linkedin.


I was referring to the following article - http://articles.sae.org/13523/
Jonathan Spiegel
Jonathan Spiegellink
Wednesday, October 22, 2014 7:28 AM
Ahh - a fellow Ramblin' Wreck! I left the hallowed halls of our Alma Mater back in '86, and spent most of my career in the automotive and light truck aftermarket. Now I get to play with suspension from a very different perspective, starting at the materials end of things. Thanks for the LinkedIn connection as well. I don't know of any opportunities related to this project yet, but there are several OEM programs in the works and I will definitely keep my eyes and ears open-
Hey Guys
Hey Guyslink
Wednesday, October 22, 2014 1:11 PM
Ever since hearing about the Trabant, I've developed a fascination with Duroplast. Duroplast is a composite thermosetting plastic, kinda like bakelite. Some of the cool things about it:
-Its strong and light
-It is made of recycled material, cotton waste and phenol resins
-it can be made in a press similar to shaping steel, it is more suitable for volume car production than fibreglass.
-Duroplast can be shredded and used as an aggregate in cement blocks for pavement construction
-Or a bacterium that will completely compost a Trabant's Duroplast body in 20 days.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duroplast
CJ Warner
CJ Warnerlink
Thursday, October 23, 2014 11:26 PM
Thank you for the link bigBcraig! Is there an article on that concept adapted to a rear-wheel drive platform? (other than GM's leaf spring solution.) I'm particularly interested on how one would negate the forces applied to the system from the drivetrain.
Jonathan Spiegel
Jonathan Spiegellink
Friday, October 24, 2014 6:57 AM
Adapting to rear wheel drive isn't be too difficult. Like most conventional RWD systems, drivetrain forces can be easily controlled with linkages (like trailing arms or multi-link configurations). Linkages also allow us to optimize geometry as well.
Jonathan Spiegel
Jonathan Spiegellink
Friday, October 24, 2014 7:01 AM
*wouldn't be*
CJ Warner
CJ Warnerlink
Wednesday, October 29, 2014 12:36 PM
Ah, I see what mean. Can't wait to see the car in action! Best of luck on your racing season. I'll be looking for you posts soon!

Efficiency above all reproach!
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