Toray industries, arguably the global leader in carbon composites technology, is opening a plant to produce industrial-grade fiber in the United States next year, and is putting even more skin in the game with a 20% investment in Plasan Carbon Composites of Wixom, Mich.
Toray expects its sales of carbon fiber to industrial applications such as automotive (PCC’s specialty) to be more than double its sales to aircraft applications by 2020. Toray is Boeing’s supplier partner for the Dreamliner 787.
PCC was established in 2006 by an Israeli kibbutz that is a global leader in developing and producing armor components for combat vehicles. When the war in Iraq ended, sales plunged and the company boosted investments in developing carbon composites for cars in the United States.
A breakthrough was announced 18 months ago by PCC’s technical director Gary Lownsdale with the development of a proprietary high-speed Pressure Press molding technology. PCC, a GM development partner, is the sole U.S. Tier 1 supplier of CFRP-based exterior body panels (hoods, roofs, etc.) for performance and luxury cars in the U.S.
PCC uses Toray Composites’ rapid curing, thermoset resin prepreg based on carbon fibers produced by Toray Carbon Fibers America for its high-speed Pressure Press molding.
One area to watch is how fast Toray can help speed PCC’s development of resin transfer molding (RTM) for automotive applications. RTM permits molding of complex shapes, which is not possible with the Pressure Press process. It may also produce components faster.
Toray has been working with Daimler to improve a new resin curing system coupled with a slit prepreg approach for use in modified RTM machines. The goal is to cut cycle times from around 160 minutes to less than 10 minutes.
Steps taken by Toray in recent years to boost its role in automotive markets include:
- Expanded its technology center in Nagoya, Japan;
- Opened the Automotive Center (AMC) (June, 2008);
- Opened the Advanced Composite Center (ACC) (April 2009);
- Acquired 21% shares of ACE Advanced Composite Engineering (ACE) in Germany (December, 2008); and
- Established a joint venture Euro Advanced Carbon Fiber Composites GmbH (EACC) with Daimler AG in Germany to produce and sell CFRP automotive parts (June, 2011).
Euro Advanced Carbon Fiber Composites GmbH, Esslingen, Germany is controlled by Toray (50.1%).