BMW has developed new processing and production techniques that make carbon fibre a viable material for use in large-scale automotive production.
The manufacturer intends for carbon fibre to feature more prominently in its future models as a result. As well as potentially improving safety, by providing a more rigid structure, carbon fibre reduces weight. This can lead to improvements in performance and efficiency.
Due to be launched soon, the new BMW i3 will be the first series production car to extensively feature carbon fibre, with its entire body structure being made from the material. It will be closely followed by the i8 sports car, which also uses carbon fibre in its construction.
Previously, the material was considered too time-consuming, costly and difficult to utilise - in significant amounts - in mass-produced cars.
Over ten years’ worth of research, however, has allowed BMW to acquire the expertise required to reduce the processing time of carbon-fibre components and panels, even complex ones, to a period short enough to allow for high volume production.
"Compared with initial industrial production of carbon-fibre M3 roofs, we have succeeded in lowering manufacturing costs for carbon-fibre body components by as much as 50 per cent", said Harald Krueger, board member of the BMW Group.
"Our manufacturing concept for the M3 roof was the first to reduce production time to minutes and assure the necessary quality in series production. In the BMW i3, we were able to reduce production cycle times for carbon-fibre body components by a further 30 per cent."
Key developments that allow BMW to produce carbon fibre on such a scale include new bonding techniques, allowing carbon-fibre parts to be joined faster, and a new panel processing system that results in shorter manufacturing times.
The use of carbon fibre for body shells, chassis tubs or myriad panels had typically remained exclusive to low volume sports cars and supercars, like LaFerrari.