Consumer products go on a diet, getting lighter and stronger

By Paul

Have you noticed that your new tennis racket or softball bat is lighter and easier to swing, yet stronger than your old one?  Maybe your new sports car hugs the road tighter than before but has even better safety ratings and fuel efficiency than the older model?

If you’ve recognized these things already, you’re probably using new-age composites.

Carbon fiber composites are having a wide-reaching effect on many industries, from automotive to office furniture.  The desk chair above, made from composite materials, was designed in Dassault Systèmes’ SolidWorks.

Composite materials, where two or more constituent materials are fused together, have been in use for a very long time.  Plywood, where wood is glued at different angles to give it more desirable properties than natural wood, is one of the earliest examples. However, the technology to create these materials has taken a giant leap forward, enabling fiber-reinforced composites and more specifically carbon-fiber composites.  This is revolutionizing product design in a number of different industries and dramatically improving the experience for end users.

The transportation and mobility industry is one of the biggest beneficiaries of carbon-fiber composites because the material is stronger and lighter than the steel and sheet metal that’s currently used in trains, planes and automobiles, and takes away any risk of corrosion.  To see how impactful these things can be, take a car for example.  Strong yet lightweight composites can improve safety and fuel economy at the same time, which is a pretty big deal in the face of government regulations and a global energy crunch.  Using lightweight composites on the roof of a car also lowers the center of gravity for a more exhilarating driving experience, while maintaining structural integrity.

Composites are different than traditional materials because you actually design material that is optimized for an intended purpose.  This is much different than working with sheet metal where the material is simply cut or shaped to fit a design.  With composites, material is designed to meet the needs of specific parts – from the frame of a car, to its hood, roof or bumper.  However, this also adds a level of complexity to product design, which is why an integrated environment – like Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE Platform, where design, simulation and manufacturing procedures can all be performed – is a major benefit.  Without an integrated platform, a manual translation must be performed between each stage, greatly increasing the chance of errors and the potential to waste time and materials.


Plasan’s Jim Staargaard easily lifts the roof of a 2013 SRT Viper. Lightweight carbon fiber body panels helped cut 100 lbs. from previous models of the car.

Plasan Carbon Composites provides a great example of a company delivering on the value of composites through its use of the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform.  The company supplies parts for leading automotive OEMS worldwide, including hoods, roofs and fenders for the Chevy Corvette and Dodge Viper.  To further extend the benefits of composites, Plasan is also leading the charge to bring carbon-fiber frames and sub-structure components to the automotive industry.

While helping OEMs achieve their goals of sustainability and better fuel economy, Plasan is also practicing sustainable innovation itself.  Using the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform, the company has eliminated trial-and-error for “right-first-time” designs and fewer physical prototypes, reduced power usage through an innovative new curing process, and reduced the number of plies in a part design for higher quality and improved performance.

Car and Driver magazine reviewed the 2013 SRT Viper and notes the impact of composite materials about 40 seconds into the following video:

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Paul Di Laura is Vice President, Value Solutions for North America




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