Automotive supplier Eaton Corp. is looking to hybrid components incorporating both metal and plastic to provide cost-effective weight savings in demanding powertrain environments.
Eaton makes power management products for vehicles, aerospace, and electrical systems. In its vehicle sector, the supplier deals largely in components subject to high load or other challenging requirements, said Kelly Williams, technology manager for polymer and nanocomposites at Eaton's R&D facility. Replacing metal with structural composites can help meet OEM's lightweighting demands, but Williams said her team seeks to balance weight savings with the cost of using high-performance composites.
A part made with continuous carbon fiber, for example, may match the strength and stiffness of its metal counterpart, but at a much higher cost. Combining metal with a composite material is one way to generate up to 40 percent weight savings at a lower cost.
"What we try to do ... is try to take some of the load with the metal and reduce the requirements on the composite part," perhaps enabling the use of a less expensive chopped fiber reinforcement, Williams said. "We still get weight savings by implementing some of the component as composite, and then the strength is still there by joining the two materials together."
Eaton combined a metal structure with a chopped fiber-reinforced polymer structure in developing a hybrid differential housing, designed to replace a heavy cast iron part. The Eaton team uses a variety of adhesive or mechanical bonding methods depending on the type of forces acting on a part.
The component is close to being production-ready, Williams said. Eaton sees great potential in hybrid parts as lightweighting efforts are increasingly applied to powertrain components.
Eaton is based in Dublin, with North American headquarters in Cleveland.