Nissan Announces 'Breakthrough' in Carbon Fiber Production

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
nissan announces 8216 breakthrough in carbon fiber production

Once reserved for aircraft and the world’s most expensive sports cars, carbon fiber has been gradually wriggling its way into the mainstream. On Thursday, Nissan announced it had whipped up a method to manufacture carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) more easily and shorten production time by around 80 percent — adding that it planned to take advantage of the material in order to build increasingly lightweight cars.

The manufacturer also suggested the new process will reduce the cost of manufacturing CFRPs, addressing the industry’s favorite excuse for why they don’t use it more often. That said, the financial inconvenience of implementing carbon fiber is really a byproduct of how labor intensive it is. Most parts are laid into molds one layer at a time with the help of an expert and use vacuum pressure to ensure the resin sets evenly, since they can’t be machine pressed. Yet Nissan felt stamping was the way to go with carbon fiber and claims to have figured out how it should be done.

By creating forms with shallow grooves that allow resin to be distributed more evenly throughout the piece, the automaker says it can press out parts with the help of a vacuum system in a repeatable manner. However, materials still have to be carefully laid beforehand, and some trial and error is needed to determine which processes work for each individual component/form.

From Nissan:

While the benefits of carbon fiber have long been known, it’s expensive compared with other materials such as steel. Along with the difficulty in shaping CFRP parts, this has hampered the mass production of automotive components made from the material.

Nissan found a new approach to the existing production method known as compression resin transfer molding. The existing method involves forming carbon fiber into the right shape and setting it in a die with a slight gap between the upper die and the carbon fibers. Resin is then injected into the fiber and left to harden.

Technically, transfer molding isn’t new, but we’ve not seen many automakers trying to make it work for carbon fiber applications. Nissan already noted the shortened production cycle as one of the benefits, but we’d imagine it also requires a little less tedium when it comes to setting unformed layers of material — and a nice level of consistency once the stamping process has been finalized for an individual part.

However, we can’t see this being a huge benefit to the company unless it’s serious about slapping more CFRP into mainstream models. Tooling isn’t cheap and needs to be offset by enough volume to warrant the cost. Molds will also require substantially more maintenance than slathering a few layers of carbon fiber on a stationary mold that has to be slathered with resin and wrapped before being placed in a pressure chamber.

Regardless, Nissan claims the pieces will be quite strong and much quicker to produce. It wants to begin incorporating the parts into the entire lineup starting with B-pillars (and other simple shapes positioned higher on the vehicle) to lower vehicles’ center of mass. Making use of lightweight materials also aids in overall efficiency, and be a minor blessing as emissions regulations become more stringent.

[Image: Nissan]

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  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Sep 03, 2020

    How Saturn was able to make car for cheap?

    • See 2 previous
    • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Sep 08, 2020

      @LectroByte Yes, and over time (especially here in the South, where heat and UV rays are a thing), they become hard and brittle, so I've seen a few older Saturns with plastic panels that have cracked or shattered. It's pretty handy when you can replace a window regulator *from the outside*. Oof.

  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Sep 08, 2020

    Hopefully this is more durable than their JATCO CVTs.

  • Tassos Now as for the Z specifically, Car and Driver had a comparison test of the new Z400, a car that looks good on paper, with plenty of HP etc, but, despite the fact that the cars that win in those tests are usually brand new models that are more up to date than their aging rivals, the Z finished DEAD LAST in the test, to my ovbious surprise.
  • Arthur Dailey Sorry but compare that spartan interior to the Marks that Corey is writing about. 'A cigarette lighter'. Every Mark had 4 cigarette lighters and ashtrays. And these came standard with 'a 3.4-liter, 182-horsepower straight-six in the engine compartment and a five-speed manual transmission'. Those do not tick off many of the luxury boxes aspired to by 'the greatest generation'.Not sure about the 7 series but one of My Old Man's associates showed up once with a brand new 5 series circa 1977 and they gave him such a bad time that he traded it for a Fleetwood within a week.
  • Tassos I clearly have no sentimental attachment to any cars from the 80s. I myself drove a Dasher (passat) wagon with horrible reliability, and then a Pontiac 2000, very fuel efficient for its time with its 1.8 lt and 5 speed, but a small econobox crudely made, with no luxuries inside. But most other cars of the era were really CRAPPY, unsafe, both in terms of passive AND active safety, had very few options modern cars have, etc etc. The best car I owned then was a 1991 Honda Civic 5-sp hatch, but that was also an 80s design that was on sale from 1987-1991. Not just the domestics were crappy then, but so were m ost of the imports. As you can see, I have ZERO "nostalgia" for any of these, especially not for the unreliable, poorly made JUNK from DATSUN-NISSAN, which is widely reviled overseas as a maker of small pickup trucks that are the favorites of Gypsies selling watermelons from their bed.
  • Tassos While Acura was the first Japanese attempt to sell 'luxury' (or "premium") vehicles in the US market, and despite its original good success in the near-luxury segment with the Legend and the far smaller and less expensive Itegra (a glorified Civic), it later lost its momentum and offered a series of underwhelming vehicles. It sure is not a LUXURY maker, and as long as it offers FWD or AWD and NOT RWD vehicles, it will never be taken seriously as a serious sports cars maker. Infiniti is much worse, and if both of them go under, few will notice. Lexus was more successful, offering pimped up TOyotas for 10,000s more, but there is NO vehicle in their lineup, esp now that they scewed up the only serious entry (the LS), that I would care to consider. AND I say all this as a very satisfied owner of 5-speed Honda coupes and hatchbacks (a 1991 Civic hatch and a 1990 Accord Coupe).
  • Mike Beranek Yet another reason to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles charged with energy from wind & solar with modern, non-Monty Burns nuclear as a backup.