By Geoff Wheatley
For a few years after the Second World War steel was in short supply and certain car manufacturers tried to use other materials including alloy's such as aluminum that had proved to be successful in the production of aircraft. The results were at best encouraging but the principle cause of concern was the fact that you had considerable difficulty repairing alloy and a minor dent could be difficult to correct . In the case of a crash the item in question was often a total write off. The use of carbon fiber in today's vehicles have changed the whole concept of both design and durability. If you get the front fender of your car damaged its easier, and often less expensive, to fit a replacement than try to rebuild the damaged item.
In the early days of plastic bodies the main concern was fatigue wear and the distortion to the fiberglass once some form of impact was experienced. Unlike steel, the main product used in the body production that also kept the local body shop in business, fiberglass was difficult to repair. Over the years various other materials were tested, some with impressive results, others not so attractive. The missing element with any thing made of steel was weight.
If we were talking about a truck this usually was never an issue, but with private vehicles now subjected to mandatory fuel performance that increases every year or two, weight is a serious consideration. In the future world of self drive electric cars weight is a very serious consideration. The lighter the car the better the battery performance in terms of available driving distance .
As you read this there are a number of companies around the world looking into the possibility of creating a strong light product that could be used in the production of not only vehicles but also boats, trailers etc. In Japan a research operation at the Kyote University has been testing the idea that wood pulp might be the substance to create such a form of light but durable plastic, that was as strong as steel and as light as any alloy currently on the market. Over the centuries wood has been our the chosen building product. for our homes, our ships, our buildings and even the early flights in flying machines.
Could it be that even after many centuries this faithful product will once again be the basis of a new technology. Stranger things have happened.
Contact Geoff Wheatley