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Quickstep wins new vehicle contract
Victorian-made carbon-fibre parts tipped to appear under bonnet of hot Commodore V8
9 Jul 2015
By IAN PORTER
UPDATED: 14/07/2015AUSTRALIAN carbon-fibre parts specialist Quickstep Holdings has won its first vehicle parts contract, producing engine-bay components for a high-spec local vehicle due for release in the first half of 2016.
The parts are expected to be used on a Holden Commodore V8 model, probably a low-volume special edition, although Quickstep would give no details about the manufacturer or the model.
The contract is the first Quickstep has won since establishing its automotive division at the carbon-fibre hub on the Waurn Ponds campus of Deakin University, near Geelong, and comes as Ford in the US last week confirmed it had sealed a deal with wheel-maker Carbon Revolution – also based in the Deakin precinct – to supply Ford’s Shelby Mustang GT350R with its hi-tech lightweight carbon-fibre wheels.
Quickstep has for years been making aerospace-grade parts for plane-makers like Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin and is already in discussions with several European car manufacturers.
It has been working closely with Audi in a program funded by the German government to prove the viability of a carbon-fibre roof panel as a structural member.
Quickstep chief executive David Marino said the company would soon receive details of the Australian order, which will entail the production of up to 1000 parts for 2016.
He said the carbon-fibre part would replace a part now made in another material and would start the process of demonstrating what carbon-fibre can do for car-makers.
“When you open the bonnet you see valances, ducts and those sorts of elements.
It will be in that range of products,” he said.
“It is part of the mass reduction process that the car-makers are implementing and, certainly, will give the vehicle some features that customers will like when they open the bonnet.”
Mr Marino said deliveries under the new contract would start in 2016 and be produced in a much shorter timeframe than Quickstep is used to with its various aerospace contracts.
“Importantly, this demonstrates our serial production capabilities and represents early success for the first phase of our automotive strategy,” he said.
“Over the next 18 months, we will target small-volume automotive projects of about 500 to 2000 parts per annum, as we increase our volume capability to secure larger projects.”
Mr Marino said the Quickstep technology is suitable for flat products like bonnets and door skins as it uses a one-sided tool or mould.
The mould, the resin and the carbon-fibre weave are placed in a bladder and the air is sucked out of the bladder, pressing the resin and the carbon-fibre into the shape of the mould.
The curing process can also be interrupted so that extra carbon-fibre pieces can be added to the original. This enables the construction of, say, bonnets with a top and bottom skin of carbon-fibre, sandwiching a sound-deadening honeycomb.
Mr Marino said the Audi project in Germany was working on a roof panel that does not have an inner panel but rather ribs moulded into the single piece.
“It actually has some level of design and ribbing in it but does not have twin sheets. It’s all about mass reduction,” he said.
“We have had some pretty good results on that and we’ll let the market know about that in due course.”
Mr Marino said other manufacturers were also interested in using carbon-fibre.
“There is a number of manufacturers, and global ones, clearly, manufacturers that we are talking to about the technology and their applications.
“Right now we are clearly looking for in the next 18 months niche volume opportunities as we crank up our own ability to produce without requiring massive capital injections.
“We can clearly make up to 50,000 parts if we wanted. We just might need 10 machines and the economics of that really needs to be evolved.
“That is not new technology development, that is just industrialisation of the technology.”
Mr Marino said Quickstep was addressing further automation of its process and also looking at cheaper carbon fibres – which are currently expensive aerospace quality – and faster-curing resins.
When it all comes together, he believes carbon-fibre parts will be affordable for mass-production vehicles.
“I believe this is going to penetrate down into the range of $35,000 to $40,000 vehicles as the CO2 emissions become a stricter requirement,” he said.
“Even pick-up trucks are going to need to lightweight themselves down. I think there is a big application for carbon- fibre.
“It won’t be the only lightweighting solution but it will present itself as a significant part of that global solution.”
The parts to be made under the new contract are expected to be used in the engine bay of a high-end Commodore V8 as the 2016 Commodore is the only new local model that will be released before the whole car manufacturing industry shuts down.
Around 37 per cent of all Commodores are now V8s and Holden has in the recent past made some limited-edition versions, including the Craig Lowndes edition, of which only 233 were made.
Quickstep is about to start construction of its $5.6 million automotive development and production facility at Waurn Ponds, and Mr Marino said all the capital equipment would be in place before the end of the year.
The company has been awarded a $1.76 grant from the Geelong Regional Innovation and Investment Fund to help construct the facility.
Quickstep has patented technology in two areas of carbon-fibre parts production, rapid curing of parts and the faster preparation of automotive-grade parts in the laying-up process. Together they are known as the Qure process.
The aim has been to reduce the cycle time of the parts production process so that the Quickstep Qure process can be readily incorporated into automotive production lines.
The first automotive success achieved by Quickstep was to be named the preferred supplier of parts to the Hawkei protected mobility vehicle that is being developed by the French defence contractor Thales at its Bendigo facility.
Quickstep shares rose 1.25 cents to 18.5 cents after the contract was revealed.
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