BMW claims it's developed a process for fast, cheap carbon composite chassis manufacture
If there's one thing motorcyclists want more of in their lives, it's carbon fiber. Such is our fascination with the lightness of carbon that people will unironically bolt non-functional bits of it onto their bikes in order to make them look lighter.
Best of all, though, is when judicious use of carbon can give us lightweight components where it counts most: south of the suspension springs. Carbon fiber rims, brakes and swingarms make a huge difference to unsprung weight, helping suspension react quicker and improving a motorcycle's handling to a degree even a novice can notice and benefit from.
And that's why this is such a good news story. BMW has just taken out the 2018 JEC Innovation Award in the Leisure and Sports category, for the carbon fiber swingarm it built for the HP4 Race in 2017. And the company has used that win to announce that it has already got another swingarm done up in carbon composites (CFP), which it has been able to manufacture cheaply using a "cost-efficient manufacturing process."
Project manager Elmar Jäger describes how the BMW process uses different types of composites in areas of high and low stress: "Our production technique uses CFP in the form of high-strength endless fibers where this is required by the stress pattern, while an injection mould part with short CFP recycling fibers is used where the stress levels are not as high. In this way, we developed a cost-efficient design that can be scaled according to requirements by inserting endless fibers with varying levels of strength in the same tool. These were the points that impressed the international jury. The insights we gained from this motorcycle component are equally valuable from the point of view of car development and can be applied accordingly."
The new technique puts all kinds of structural parts on the menu in lightweight carbon composites, and BMW claims components can be made with a single tool in under a minute, then strengthened with additional CFP panels if necessary, or thermoplastically joined using welding robots.
The second swingarm presented is small and thin, with a central monoshock. It looks like it could fit something out of the G310 series, but there's no talk of it appearing as an aftermarket part any time soon.
Still, with a quick, cheap pathway to lightweight carbon composite components that involves reliable, high-throughput production technologies, BMW looks like it's well placed to start bloodying noses in all sorts of categories. Structural carbon's allure is no joke in the showroom, or in a vehicle test. This could be a big deal.