Lamborghini's Focus On Composites

When you're building some of the most exotic cars in the world, you pursue some of the most advanced materials technologies, too.

Arguably, one of the premier manufacturers of sports cars in the world is Automobili Lamborghini S.P.A. (Sant'Agata Bolognese, Italy). The firm has certainly the wherewithal to build its cars with whatever materials it deems most well suited to them. This is predicated on the simple fact that if you were interested in buying a Gallardo LP 570-4 Superleggera, it would set you back somewhere in the vicinity of $240,000.

The Gallardo LP 570-4 Superleggera is a follow-on to the Gallardo LP 560-4. The LP 560-4 has a mass of just 1,410 kg (3,109 lb). The LP 570-4 Superleggera is even lighter, down 70 kg (154 lb), to a mere 1,340 kg (2,954 lb). According to the people from Lambo, the primary contributing factor to this reduction in weight: the use of carbon-fiber composites on both the exterior and interior of the car.

"The consistent development of carbon-fiber technology is a key element of our strategy," said Stephan Winkelmann, president and CEO of the company. And he went on to say something that one might not expect the head of an exotic vehicle manufacturer to say: "The most important parameter for super sports cars is, now as in the future, the weight-to-power ratio; therefore, as there is a limit to power increase due to emission regulations, we must work on weight reduction."

That's right: Even Lamborghini engineers must be concerned with emissions reductions, even with cars equipped with 5.2-liter V10s that generate 570 hp.

Lambo is no stranger to carbon fiber. They built a carbon-fiber chassis prototype for the Countach in 1983. Two years later, series production of carbon-fiber parts commenced. Presently, the body of the Murciélago has 93 kg (204.6 lb) of carbon-fiber materials.

To further its capabilities, earlier this year the company opened an Advanced Composites Research Center (ACRC) at its headquarters site. It is located in two buildings that has a combined area of approximately 2,600-m2 (~28,000-ft2). There is a team of 30 people—engineers and technicians—at the ACRC, building prototypes, developing prototype and production tooling, and developing production technologies for the manufacture of vehicle components. They have a variety of equipment at the center, including automated cutting and casting equipment, a heated 1,000-ton press, and several autoclaves. They perform crash tests on the components being developed. (Speaking of crash testing: It is interesting to note that in 2007 Lamborghini and Boeing established a composites crash analysis research program in 2007, and in 2009, the Automobili Lamborghini Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory at the University of Washington, where work is done with Boeing and other partner companies.)

A key focus at the ACRC is on developing advanced processes, which has led to extensive work on processes that will permit the production of carbon-fiber parts without the use of autoclaves, such as resin transfer molding (RTM), which produces parts under high pressure and vacuum RTM, wherein resin is forced into the carbon-fiber prepreg with negative pressure. As Winkelmann said, "Extensive use of carbon fiber, even at the structural level, allows Lamborghini to be at the forefront of development techniques. The real difference is the correct use of technologies and materials to satisfy technical and financial concerns. This is what the Center is all about."

One process that the developers at the ACRC have patented is called "RTM light." Apparently, this process allows the production of carbon-fiber parts at comparatively low pressures and temperatures, thereby reducing production time and cost, and permitting the use of lighter tooling.

Yes, even at Lamborghini they are concerned with things like cycle time. Imagine.