Speaker interviews


Ahead of the conference, we sat down to talk with Ford Motor Company's Light Weighting Innovations Manager, Alan Banks.

We discuss the importance of lightweight materials for the production of hybrid and electric vehicles, the need for a composites supply chain that can cope with the demands of mass production, and the importance of developing technologies and strategies for the recycling of composite automotive parts at the end of their working lives.

TOAI: How vital are lightweight materials for electric vehicles, and what role could composites play in the automotive industry of the future?

AB: Consumers are concerned about the range of electric vehicles. Plug-in hybrids are a good solution. You get an electric vehicle without the associated “range anxiety”, but then you have two engines and a set of batteries, so they're very heavy. This weight has a significant impact on the range of hybrid and electric vehicles. Eventually, when we all start to realise the weight impacts of electrification, there will be demand for lightweight components to increase the range of EVs.

My worry is that the composites industry does not have the necessary supply-chain infrastructure in place to serve the mainstream automotive industry. Further, when we talk about composites, everyone immediately jumps on carbon fibre-reinforced plastics as being the solution, which isn’t necessarily the case. I think we need to start thinking about composites as a whole. Plus, of course, there are lightweight materials other than composites available. This is where multi-material solutions will come into the equation. The right material needs to be used in the right application.

TOAI: What does the composites industry need to do to scale-up to meet the demands of the mainstream automotive industry?

AB: We are in something of a chicken-and-egg situation at the moment. On the one hand, the automotive industry will not commit fully to the use of composites until it sees that the composites industry has put the necessary infrastructure in place to cater for the mass-production of components. On the other hand, the composites industry does not want to invest in that infrastructure until it is sure that the automotive industry is fully committed to the use of composites. We need to work together to solve this issue. It’s going to take a brave carmaker to forge the right partnerships, and just go and do it. Once one carmaker has made this leap, the rest will follow. 

TOAI: What other barriers are there to the use of composites in the mainstream automotive industry?

AB: There are a number of other inhibitors to the mainstream automotive industry’s use of composite materials. There's their cost. There's the need to produce composite parts in the volumes required. But I think recycling is a key issue. Assuming all of these other barriers are removed, how are we going to recycle composite parts? Car manufacturers are responsible for recycling their vehicles at the end of their lives, and there is no infrastructure in place for recycling composites. It is hard enough as it is to recycle steel, iron and plastics.

At Ford we're currently looking at how we can break-down the obstacles to recycling composites. We're currently exploring this through the UK National Composite Centre's Rediscover project. Once the recycling issue has been solved, there is nothing to stand in the way of wider adoption of composites in the mainstream automotive industry.

Alan’s colleague at Ford, Innovation Engineer Alice Swallow, will touch on some of these themes during her presentation at the conference.



Kathy Beresford, Group R&D Manager, Autins Group plc spoke to conference chair, Adrian Wilson ahead of the conference

TOAI: Dr Beresford, at the forthcoming Textile Opportunities in a Changing Automotive Industry conference, you’ll talk about the benefits of acoustic modelling and material characterisation. Can you tell us first a little about your company, Autins?

KB: Of course. Autins was founded in 1966 in Rugby, UK, originally as a supplier of acoustic and thermal insulation components for the first Leyland Mini. We now supply around 20 million such parts to over 160 different customer locations each year.

We have four operations in the UK and others now in Sweden (opened in 2012) and Germany (opened in 2013). Our product range is based around:

  • Nonwovens as lightweight, ultra-micro fibre-based acoustic absorbers.
  • Mono-material polyester nonwovens with application-specific scrims.
  • Injection moulded PUR open/semi-open/closed cell foams.
  • Layered barriers and absorbers tuned to specific applications.
  • Low density PUR foam with application-specific scrims and heat shields.

TOAI: Over the past few years Autins has invested heavily in a new high-performance nonwoven product called Neptune. What is it and what are its benefits?

KB: Neptune is made from a combination of polypropylene microfibres in the weight range of 0.3-10μm and PET staple fibres of around 23μm, by a proprietary method for which we have an exclusive licence in the UK and Europe-wide.

The combined fibre web has a corrugated finish and nonwoven covering scrims provide a smooth, aesthetic surface. Neptune nonwovens have a high sound absorption at a low weight, with exceptional low-frequency absorption, along with excellent compression and recovery. They also provide advantages for thermal insulation with low thermal conductivity and are cost competitive to alternative products in the industry.

Neptune has already been approved for use in the vehicles of our customers including BMW, Fiat-Chrysler, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Volvo.

TOAI: With the move towards alternatives to the combustion engine for vehicles, starting with electric cars, won’t there be much less need for such insulation products?

KB: Quite the opposite! There will of course be a desire to drive down vehicle weight in electric vehicles and that might result in a change in the style of insulation products. However, we expect to see an increase in the need for acoustic and thermal insulation.

TOAI: Why’s that?

KB: Once there is no more engine noise, other noise sources become more apparent. Suddenly, previously masked noises from outside the vehicle, particularly wind – as well as the whistles and hums from the tyres and transmission and aircon system – all become noticeable and quickly irritating. As a result, there will be more for us to do, because lightweight solutions with superior acoustic performance are required. There is also an opportunity to take mass out of the vehicle, in order to compensate for the considerable weight of the batteries.

Thermal control is also even more important, because without an engine, heating and cooling the passenger cabin can be a big drain on the battery. With better thermal insulation it’s possible to reduce this and hence extend the range of the vehicle.

TOAI: So there are plenty of new opportunities for the company going forward then?

KB: There certainly are. Autins will continue to develop Neptune as we focus on the changes that are taking place in the automotive market and the new materials and products that will be required. However, as the share of electric vehicles in the automotive market grows, there is likely to be growth also in the actual square metres of materials for such components employed in them.

At the conference I’ll address how suppliers of acoustic insulation can use acoustic modelling to tailor their solutions and the advantages for the OEMs of characterising the acoustic properties of these materials – especially in the development of new solutions for electric vehicles.



Silke Brand-Kirsch, Executive Partner, Schlegel & Partner (Germany), spoke to conference chair, Adrian Wilson ahead of the conference.

TOAI: At TOAI, you’ll outline the latest developments in E-mobility and new opportunities for textiles and nonwovens. How was the market for electric vehicles in 2019?

SB-K: Globally, 2019 was an excellent year for the producers of battery electric vehicles, since their production went up by more than 30% compared to 2018, while the production of conventional vehicles with engines fell by over 8%.

Many new models were launched during 2019, especially by the European OEMs such as Porsche and Volkswagen and the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in September was all about the future of mobility. Better infrastructure technology, lower battery costs and the mainstream acceptance of climate change are now also pushing demand, while in the past it has mainly been driven by government incentives and legislation.

TOAI: Who are the leading countries for e-mobility progress?

SB-K: Regarding stock and the number of pure battery electric vehicles produced, China is the leading country and we project that this is going to remain for a while. As far the market penetration of BEVs, their visibility and the infrastructure are concerned, developed countries like Norway, Austria and Israel that do not have their own significant car industries are way ahead of other countries. 

TOAI: Have you seen any recent new applications for textiles in electric vehicles?

SB-K: Weight reduction is still one of the key development efforts and requirements in the construction of a vehicle. For an electric car, lower weight means an increase in range. In an internal combustion engine car, lower weight can result in better fuel economy. So any lower weight solution compared to a plastic, metal or a lower grammage of a textile are common new products. Increasing market opportunities also exist for textiles in replacing leather in the interior and in offering more mono-materials for recycling reasons.