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Quickstep wins new grants for carbon-fibre parts

Booster shot: Assistant industry and innovation minister Craig Laundy (centre) inspects carbon-fibre parts with Quickstep managing director David Marino (right) this week.

Export sales set to ramp up as Geelong firm receives two new development grants

General News logo21 Feb 2017


CARBON-FIBRE specialist Quickstep Holdings has won two development grants which are expected to lead to the production and export of seat parts and front fenders.

The new development contracts have been won only months after the company’s first automotive supply contract came to an end when Ford Australia stopped production last October.

Quickstep made the air intake system under the bonnet of the XR6 Sprint, the first carbon-fibre parts on an Australian-made car.

The new grants were announced this week by the federal government’s assistant minister for industry, innovation and science Craig Laundy at Deakin University’s Waurn Ponds campus near Geelong, where Deakin has developed a carbon-fibre research and manufacturing cluster.

Simultaneously, Deakin unveiled a complete carbon-fibre production line that will be used by its Carbon Nexus company to produce test batches of fibre. This is the first facility in the country that can make fibre in useful quantity, although it is not big enough for commercial use.

The new line means Carbon Nexus can now research, develop and produce its own unique carbon fibres without having to rely on the small group of companies around the world that currently dominate production and supply.

One of the grants for Quickstep is for $250,000 and comes from the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre in Geelong to help fund the development of a low-cost carbon composite fender “for the European automotive market”.

Quickstep managing director David Marino said the successful development of the fender has the potential to generate export revenue of $25 million.

“The outcomes from this project will overcome some of the major impediments in the uptake of carbon-fibre parts by reducing cycle time, optimising material system selection and utilising smart designs as part of a new composite fabrication process,” he said.

Mr Marino said that, after discussions with a number of leading European car-makers, he believed there was “significant interest” in Quickstep’s robotic lay-up and resin spray technology. Carbon-fibre has been expensive to use because it required a lot of manual labour in the lay-up process.

“Beyond the targeted customer for this demonstrator fender part, Quickstep believes there is considerable potential for the development of additional composite automotive parts with similar levels of complexity when the development of the fender component is complete,” he said.

Up until now, Quickstep has specialised in parts that are essentially flat, such as the panels it produces for the F35 Joint Strike Fighter and the C130-J Super Hercules.

The fender project will see Quickstep collaborate with Carbon Nexus to develop the unique fibres and processes needed for a part with compound curves.

The second grant awarded to Quickstep, this time for $1.45 million, came from the federal government under its Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) project scheme which does not, in fact, involve a CRC. Rather, it simulates a CRC by requiring the involvement of at least two companies plus a research institution and only involves relatively small grants.

This second grant is for the development of “bespoke lightweight automotive carbon-fibre composite seats”.

GoAuto understands this is the co-operative project revealed last year by Quickstep and Australia’s biggest parts-maker Futuris Automotive. The two companies are developing a carbon-fibre seatback that will be 50 per cent lighter than current parts.

“We believe the outcomes from this project will lead to global seat parts supply opportunities for Quickstep,” Mr Marino said.

“The market for bespoke lightweight carbon-fibre seats is growing, particularly with the accelerated growth of luxury and electric vehicles in a number of global markets we are targeting.”

Futuris will provide the design, the specifications and the testing ability for the seat component.

The award of the two grants comes two years after Quickstep participated in a project in Germany to establish that its patented processes were suitable for use in the car industry.

The project was conducted in Munich with Audi and was funded by the German government. The project developed a prototype carbon-fibre roof panel suitable for an Audi A1 hatch.

It established that Quickstep’s patented process could produce paintable Class A panels at a lower cost that the traditional autoclave process in volumes up to 10,000 units a year.

The company then brought all its equipment back from Munich and used it to establish its automotive division on the Deakin University campus.

The Carbon Nexus wet spinning line unveiled this link is the “missing link” in Australia’s carbon-fibre capability, according to CSIRO Future Industries director Anita Hill.

Dr Hill said only a handful of companies around the world can create carbon-fibre, each using their own secret recipe.

“CSIRO and Deakin researchers had to crack the code,” she said. “In doing so, using patented CSIRO technology, they’ve created what could be the next generation of carbon-fibre that is stronger and of a higher quality.”

The wet spinning line transforms wet, sticky precursor chemicals into 500 strands of white fibre, all thinner than a human hair. The CSIRO has patented a process in which it can alter the molecular structure of the polymer to create certain properties in the finished fibre.

The white fibres are then cooked in a very hot oven where the carbonisation of the fibre happens, involving a lot of complex chemistry.

“Together with Deakin, we’ve created something that could disrupt the entire carbon-fibre manufacturing industry,” Dr Hill said.

Wheel-maker Carbon Revolution is also based within the Deakin carbon-fibre cluster.

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