Rassini SAB de CV, a Mexican manufacturer of automotive suspension and brake components, has partnered with the University of Alabama at Birmingham to develop a recyclable thermoplastic suspension system.
The three-year project will be focused around leaf springs for the light truck market, a company release states. UAB School of Engineering students will work with Rassini engineers as part of the collaboration, and Rassini is sponsoring two of the three graduate students attached to the project. Work began in April.
The project builds on Rassini and UAB's 2014 collaboration to develop composite leaf springs for a lightweight race car, showcasing continuous fiber thermoplastic composite technology from Polystrand Inc.
“That set the stage really for us to move forward into the more defined partnership [with UAB] on a project basis,” said a Rassini representative. “Being able to do that gave us the confidence that there was something tangibly real there, that we now have a real-life application.”
UAB's Materials Processing and Applications Development Center is a 30,000-square-foot laboratory designed to close the gap between laboratory-scale research and mass production.
“It's really a one-stop shop,” the representative said. “We can develop materials and applications and catalysts and all those activities to promote the properties that we're looking for … but then take it into the arena of commercialization, which is such an important factor in automotive when the volumes become so much greater than what traditionally has been applied in composite thinking in the past.”
MPAD director Brian Pillay described the MPAD Center's approach:
“We found there is kind of a hole in the market where if you look at research at the universities and then you look at industry needs, we kind of stop at a certain point, and then there has to be this big jump to where industry needs it to be. We try to close that gap with the facility that we have, and therefore we go all the way up to prototyping and providing help and assistance with developing full manufacturing facilities at the plant.”
The approach benefits students as well, he added.
“Most times industry needs things done on a very rapid pace, so [students] develop this culture, and then when we're actually producing the parts they're developing experience on industrial-scale equipment, not just lab scale equipment,” he said. “They're already industry-ready when they get their qualifications, when they get their degrees.”
The work pushing thermoplastics to new capabilities is motivated in part by the automotive industry's emphasis on lightweighting, along with a need for eco-friendly technology.
“Combining the university's focused skillset and talent along with Rassini's technological expertise, we're prepared to generate significant contributions related to thermoplastics and suspension design that will offer fully recyclable, eco-friendly suspension systems,” said Norm Jacobs, president of Rassini International Inc. and vice president of sales for its North America suspension group.
The team will look at recyclability of both manufacturing scrap and end-of-life suspension components.