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Carbon Revolution competes to stay in front
Geelong wheel maker wants to develop its own fibres to maintain a unique advantage
8 Oct 2015
By IAN PORTER
THE world’s only manufacturer of one-piece carbon-fibre wheels – Geelong-based Carbon Revolution – is going to great lengths to maintain its leadership position in the area of lightweight wheels.
Directors are so keen to maintain the company’s leadership position they are already planning to develop unique carbon-fibres for the company’s products, to ensure no other operators can utilise the same raw materials Carbon Revolution uses.
The Victorian company has already protected its technology with patents, granted and pending, and is very secretive about the techniques and processes it has developed to speed the production of carbon-fibre wheels.
But directors realise that competitors will try to come after the company, which currently has a leading position, being the only carbon-fibre wheel company in the world to land a supply contract with a major car-maker, Ford.
Carbon Revolution chief executive officer Jake Dingle revealed the plan to develop unique carbon-fibres when he addressed a gathering to celebrate the opening of the company’s new plant on the Waurn Ponds campus of Deakin University, in Geelong.
“In the coming years, I’m hoping we will be in a position to source more materials locally as well,” he said.
“Potentially, that means even investing in raw-materials production, such as carbon-fibre manufacturing.
“Obviously, with what’s going on at Carbon Nexus, this becomes more and more of a reality and a possibility.
“It’s also another way for us to lock in a more unassailable advantage compared to competitors that will come into this market from other parts of the world.”
Left: Carbon Revolution CEO Jake Dingle Carbon Nexus is a company also based on the Deakin University campus, specialising in the development of carbon-fibres for different applications and with different properties.
Using carbon-fibre encased in polymer is a standard technique in the aerospace industry.
Much of the work at Carbon Revolution has been concentrated on cutting the cycle time from laying in the strips of carbon-fibre into the mould to pulling the cured wheel from the mould.
Speeding up production will bring down the cost, and Carbon Revolution is working with several equipment suppliers to perfect its production processes.
A Carbon Revolution employees said the company was working with more than one supplier on its production line equipment so that no one supplier knows how the whole system works.
This level of secrecy was carried through after the opening ceremony, which was conducted in a walled-off part of the plant, with large screens obscuring the view of the plant.
There was no plant tour following the press conference.
“You can see the barriers around here and we are very careful to protect the intellectual property we are developing because the generation and protection of intellectual property really does go to the heart of what this business is all about,” Mr Dingle said.
And there are big stakes in play. Carbon Revolution is determined to win a large slice of the mass production wheel business in coming years. The largest aluminium wheel maker in Europe, Ronal, holds a 30 per cent stake in the company.
“Here at Carbon Revolution our vision is clear. Our singular goal is to offer a disruptive technology to the transport industry en masse.
“It sounds ambitious, but our belief in the goal is based on the fact that we have already achieved a performance in our technology that just can’t be achieved with conventional technology.
“We also know that this can now be done at a cost base this is competitive and is able to deliver real value to our customers.” The confidence of directors is reflected in the company’s expansion plans. The new factory will be able to produce 50,000 wheels a year when up to speed, but directors are already planning another plant the same size next door.
However, that second plant, tentatively planned to be completed by 2020, is expected to produce 250,000 units a year, five times the output from the same floor area.
“With the industrialisation and automation we are looking at stepping up volumes and doing much bigger and much more efficient plants to service higher-volume contracts and take these wheels to a much larger market,” Mr Dingle said.
Research and commercialisation will be relentless, according to the company's CEO.
“There is a lot of tech development to happen, and we have a great team to do it. We have multiple PhDs actually on staff and we have access to the institutes around here.”
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