BMW and Boeing pool brains to automate carbon fibre production

Posted on 12 Dec 2012

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing will work with carmaker BMW to research how to automate the production of ultra-light carbon fibre and how to best recycle the material.

A spokesperson for Boeing said the research will result in cheaper production of carbon fibre, making the material more economically viable to make parts on cars and jetliners produced by the two companies.

It is the first collaboration between the two companies and follows the opening of BMW’s new carbon fibre plant in Washington, USA, where Boeing also has facilities.

With airlines already purchasing planes based on their fuel efficiency, which improves with light weighting, a spokesperson for BMW said that it is also an “the demand of the future from automotive customers.”

The plant produces carbon fibre for the automotive group’s new electric car being released in late 2013, the BMW i3, and the BMW i8 that will follow, the company’s first vehicles with a carbon passenger cell.

The plant will be home to joint research, with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner made up of 50% carbon fibre material and the two companies look to swap knowledge on recycling composite material at point of use and at the end of a product’s life between the sectors.

“Boeing has many years of extensive experience using carbon fibre in the field of aviation, while the BMW Group has earned a significant competitive advantage through its use of special manufacturing methods for series production of carbon fibre parts,” said Herbert Diess, board member at BMW.

As part of the collaboration agreement, Boeing and BMW will share carbon fibre manufacturing process simulations and ideas for manufacturing automation.

“This collaboration agreement is a very important step forward in developing the use and end use of carbon fibre materials,” said Larry Schneider, vice president of product development at Boeing.

Mr Schneider commented: “It is especially important that we plan for the end of a product’s life that is made from carbon fibre. We want to look at ways to reclaim and reuse those materials to make new products.”