UK based Zircotec Group has
developed the first plasma applied thermal barrier coating that can be used
with composites that require a Class A display surface. The new technology
allows vehicle manufactures to use the lightweight materials in places that
have previously not been possible, such as aerodynamic aids near exhaust pipes
or the exhaust shrouds themselves.
Zircotec is a specialist heat
management company that was formally part of the UK Atomic Energy Authority.
The automotive industry is increasingly
adopting composite components, largely to meet strict emissions regulations but
also due to consumer demand for the aesthetic qualities of the materials.
However, using composites close to heat sources has previously required some
form of heat shielding, which adds components and is largely unaccepted by
vehicle manufacturers looking to maintain the aesthetics of visible surfaces.
“With new manufacturing
techniques starting to make carbon composites more affordable, the material is
increasingly offering an ideal solution where high strength must be combined
with light weight,” explains Graeme Barette, Zircotec Group Director. “One of
the barriers to adoption continues to be the material’s vulnerability to high
temperatures. This new technique is the result of a request from a vehicle
manufacturer to solve this challenge and is now fully validated and ready to
roll-out in higher volumes,” he adds.
The technology is an evolution
of Zircotec’s proven plasma-applied ceramic coating, a result of development carried
out at the company’s in-house R&D facility. The chemistry of the compound
and the application process has been significantly modified specifically for
application to composite materials.
“With combustion temperatures
rising and more heat being retained in the exhaust to ensure efficient
operation of turbocharging and after treatment systems, temperatures are not
only rising under the bonnet, heat is also being carried back further than ever
before,” adds Barette. “That can be a problem in areas like air channelling at
the rear of the car, where prolonged exposure to high temperature exhaust
gasses can discolour and degrade the superb finishes expected by the owners of
luxury and high-performance vehicles,” he says.
The high-quality finish
required for A Class surfaces has been achieved through specially-developed,
high-precision automation of the application process and thorough quality
control techniques. The automation not only ensures a consistent finish that
meets OEM recognised standards but enables Zircotec to process 100,000 parts a
“Our proprietary application
process requires specialised equipment and highly trained technicians,”
continues Barette. “Although we have the capability to process large numbers of
components here at our headquarters in the UK, the critical parameters are now
sufficiently well understood to allow us to set-up a micro application facility
in parallel with a vehicle manufactures production line,” he notes.
The coating has been
extensively trialled with a number of Europe’s most demanding vehicle
manufacturers and is now available for wider application.
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