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BRACE: Breakthrough reinforcement for added chassis efficiency

The BRACE project is aimed at the automotive industry, and addresses the need for deploying a novel joining method for dissimilar materials that combines practicality, performance and the opportunity to disassemble at a product’s end-of-life.  The target application for the technology is automotive chassis and body-in-white parts assembly.

 With the support of TWI’s Advanced Composites and Adhesives (ACA) section on the project, the joining method selected was the Polymer Coating Material (PCM) technique, which was invented by TWI.  PCM involves the use of thermoplastics as structural adhesives where the final assembly operation is a polymer weld. In the manufacture of a joint between a thermoplastic component and a dissimilar material component, for example metal), the non-thermoplastic component is first coated with the same thermoplastic before both components are welded together.

 Each consortium partner is contributing to the project as follows: 

  • Gestamp UK’s Advanced Technology Team, also the technical lead for BRACE, is responsible for the technology feasibility study, and the design and development of the parts it requires
  • Gestamp Spain is developing the feasibility lab-prototypes, and testing, evaluating and validating the proposed dissimilar materials joining system
  • TWI is responsible for conceiving the overall system for BRACE
  • FAR-UK Ltd is contributing through preparing and characterising the test coupons
  • Brunel Composites Centre (BCC) is carrying out the finite element modelling and optimisation of the proposed system.

Three standard components manufactured by Gestamp Chassis, in the form of painted and unpainted, aluminium and steel lower control arms, were selected for the feasibility study.  The aim is to apply thermoplastic composite patches, using the PCM joining method, to these parts to increase their stiffness, improve noise, vibration and harshness levels for higher-end models, and explore the possibility of downgauging standard parts where economically viable weight reduction is possible.

 The work on BRACE will contribute a number of improvements beyond existing, state-of-the-art solutions for the joining of dissimilar materials, including the ability to join parts and materials that do not need to be drilled, negating the risk of water damage, up gauging thickness, and strength reduction, and removing the requirement for intensive surface preparation, hence the solution is not subject to curing times or restricted in its shelf life, meaning it offers a clean disassembly opportunity.

 On completion, BRACE will deliver an innovative new process and delivery system for the joining of advanced thermoplastic composites to metals assembly, initially for use in the automotive sector but with the potential to be developed further, for application in a range of other sectors such as wind energy, marine, and sports and leisure.

Partners: FAR-UK Ltd, Gestamp, TWI and BCC.

BRACE secured funding from Innovate UK under EUREKA collaborative R&D programme 107471.

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