Quickstep gets its carbon composites show on the road

Advanced composites manufacturer and Joint Strike Fighter project supplier Quickstep has announced the launch of automobile parts made using the company's Resin Spray Transfer technology.

The company announced at its Bankstown facility that it was fast-tracking the commercialisation of its RST for car parts, such as door panels, assisted by an AusIndustry grant. According to today's statement, the composite parts are being trialled by a number of German auto firms, including Audi.

“The car we’re working on with Audi is the A1,” Quickstep managing director Philippe Odouard told Manufacturers’ Monthly of the technology, which has been used to create carbon fibre-based roofs for the German company’s cars in demonstrations.

According to Quickstep, the robotised RST process offers quick turnovers, parts half the weight of their steel equivalents, and a high-quality surface finish.

“When the part comes off the press, it’s actually ready to be painted straight away,” explained Odouard.

“So a lot of other processes give you a part that has a lot of pitting. A lot of little holes. And you need to block them with putty and cure that putty and sand it. It’s extremely time-consuming, very manual.”

The price of carbon fibre currently prohibits its inclusion in any non-high-performance vehicles, but this will not always be the case, Odouard hopes, as the material's use becomes more widespread.

There are indications that demand for the material is on the way up.

According to the University of Manchester’s Professor Andrew Walker, an authority on carbon composites and a former chief manufacturing engineer at Airbus, the use of carbon fibre will increase from 60,000 tonnes a year currently to 250,000 to 300,000 tonnes a year in 2020.

"This is Silicon Valley on steroids," he told The Australian earlier this year.

“There is nothing growing more rapidly.”

Quickstep also hopes that fuel efficiency benefits from lighter weight vehicles and demands made by an “emerging emission-legislated world” would also help make parts made by RST production more appealing.

“If you take a [Holden] Barina today, for instance, that has an emission of 158 grams of CO2 per kilometre, the threshold in 2015 will be 130 grams,” said Odouard. “So you are already 28 grams above, 100 Euros per gram, that’s 2,800 Euros.”

Quickstep, which was founded in 2001 and listed on the ASX in 2005, was assisted in developing the technology by a $2.5 million Climate Ready grant.

Industry minister Kim Carr, who spoke at this morning’s launch, told those present that Quickstep represented “all that was good about modern manufacturing in Australia,” and that the co-investment in the technology helped link Australian science, innovation and business.

“And this is not just a new technology, though, it’s a new industrial process,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“And carbon fibre is a way of – it’s basically what is an old textile; if you think about it, it’s a way we transform the textile industry.”

Carr called Quickstep an example of the future of Australian manufacturing, with a company staffed by those in highly-skilled, highly-paid positions, creating a unique, globally-competitive product.  

“We have the very best science, the very best universities, the very best research capacities in the world,” he said.

“We’ve got to utilise these more effectively. What we need is people that have got the right attitude, the entrepreneurial spirit to want to get out there and make a quid, to apply new technologies to develop new industries.”

Today’s launch follows Quickstep’s announcement last month that it was licensing its patented out-of-clave Quickstep Process to Russian company ORPE Technologiya for use in making satellites.

It hopes to sell and eventually license its RST method.

Fairfax reports that Quickstep’s share prices were up 40 per cent at 9:55 am after the announcement was made.