Composite Materials

Carbon, a Promising Possibility as a Next-Generation Composite Material

The Lexus RC F, a 2014 SUPER GT class vehicle
The Lexus RC F, a 2014 SUPER GT class vehicle

In the composite materials business, TRD has been engaged in everything from vehicle design to part production for racecars and motorshow concept cars using composite materials that consist of carbon, Kevlar, glass, and other fibers reinforced with resins (also known as fiber-reinforced plastics, or FRP). A composite material receiving particular attention in recent years is a carbon fiber, which is used in the monocoque of Formula racers and in the Lexus RC F, currently competing in the SUPER GT.

With a nearly 50-year history as a composite material, carbon fiber has in fact enjoyed very little commercial exposure for use in making vehicle parts. However, since the adoption of the autoclave machine in 1989, which is when the material became widely known for its use as a structural material for cars, TRD has been continuously engaged in improving related equipment and conducting R&D.

The Shonan Technical Center, an R&D Base for Composite Materials

Opened in 2006, the Shonan Technical Center has special refrigerators for material stock and a climate-controlled, special room for performing additive modeling work. These and other features are aimed at ensuring top quality control for carbon fiber material, which is quite sensitive to environmental changes (in temperature and humidity). The facility is thus capable of minimizing material, mold, etc. deformation and producing high-quality carbon composite parts with high precision.

Another advantage of the Shonan Technical Center is its ability to incorporate the automaking expertise we have developed through many years of racing activities and developing Toyota vehicles into the development of carbon composite parts as structural materials for cars.

Full view of the Shonan Technical Center
Full view of the Shonan Technical Center
Autoclave
Autoclave
5-shaft processing machine
5-shaft processing machine

The Shonan Technical Center has a multitude of equipment for R&D related to composite materials such as carbon fiber, and everything from part design and development to prototyping is done within the center. The facility also boasts exacting quality control and robust security measures to allow for the research of new methods and a variety of products to be made. These technologies were employed in the creation of the Lexus LFA super sports car marketed in recent years by Toyota, and have helped with everything from development to part creation, playing a role in making composite material parts for the Toyota Group.

Advantages of Carbon Fiber in Automaking
Carbon fiber has almost the same strength as steel or the lightweight metal aluminum, but with 1/5 and 1/2 the mass of each, respectively. Reducing the weight of vehicles reduces energy waste and contributes to making vehicles better for the environment.
As carbon composite materials are composite materials comprised of carbon fiber and special resins, they can be molded into complex shapes not possible by press forming metals. Furthermore, they differ from aluminum and other metals in one can change characteristics such as strength based on location without changing thickness due to fiber composition.