Innovative Composite Tools for the Automotive Industry Are on the Rise

composite tools

The automotive industry sold more than 14 million cars in America in 2020. Few industries remain as large and as committed to innovation as vehicle production. Composites, in turn, play a growing role in vehicle construction.

What has led automakers to turn to composites? How do engineers shape composite parts? Why do engineers use composite tools to shape composites?

Come along as we show you why composite materials have become so popular. We’ll look at the tooling process and how recent material innovations have made life easier for manufacturers.

What Are Composite Tools?

Composite tools comprise any mold used to form the composite parts of an automobile. These tools can use any material so long as they can deliver the standards manufacturers set for the part every time.

Some composite tools use composites in their construction. Carbon fiber has started overtaking fiberglass in many vehicle applications. Fiberglass still makes a solid tool for making more composite parts.

Soft Tooling

Soft tooling includes any tool made of composite or polymer. Automakers sometimes make and maintain these tools themselves. They already have the equipment and in-house knowledge to form composites, so making tools themselves helps reduce labor costs.

For small production runs, soft tools work well. Manufacturers turn to soft tools during the prototyping process. This requires just a few copies of the composite automotive parts, so soft tools will hold up as long as they need to.

Soft tools cost less than their metal counterparts. For those using expensive materials like carbon fiber, this can help keep a project on budget.

Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing includes any process where manufacturers make something one layer at a time. When most people think of additive manufacturing, they think of 3D printing. Electron-beam and selective laser processes also fall under this category, though.

If you’re making large parts, additive manufacturing can help. This process can create composite tools that hold up well during the tooling process despite their size. You can then make tools and molds for different types of vehicles at a lower cost.

Additive manufacturing offers more advantages than speed and scale. 3D printing also offers the ability to create shapes that CNC machines can’t make without prohibitive effort. It even allows for shapes that conventional manufacturing can’t achieve at all.

Thermal Expansion

When working with any composite tool, engineers need to worry about the tool expanding when exposed to heat. Composite curing heats up materials. Expansion can lead to final products that don’t fit the requirements.

Most types of composites don’t expand as much as steel or aluminum. While they survive fewer manufacturing cycles, you can have confidence that the parts they make will meet safety standards. Even small defects can cause major safety issues.

Tooling Around

Auto manufacturers rely on composite tools. Fast prototyping helps keep projects on time and within budget. New ideas in additive manufacturing and materials engineering make for cheaper, faster, safer products.

If you need a composites solution, contact us at SMI Composites to request a quote. We work in several verticals, including automotive, aerospace, sports, and medical. This breadth of experience gives us an unbeatable depth of knowledge.

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