Australian company Carbon Revolution has developed, and is now commercially producing, the world’s first one piece carbon fibre automobile wheel. The commercially available CR-9 wheel (pictured), represents more than seven years of development, including the wheel design and manufacturing process that is the subject of intellectual property protection in a number of countries.
Carbon Revolution’s carbon fibre wheel is the first in the world to include an integrally molded rim and face portion. The integral connection provides significant strength and endurance properties. This unique wheel configuration also required development of a new manufacturing process.
Brett Gass, Engineering Director and a founding member of Carbon Revolution, notes that “Creating a composite wheel that is made entirely in one piece from continuous fibres is particularly challenging given the significant geometric complexities. We have successfully developed an architecture that optimises the outstanding properties of continuous carbon fibres through the complex range of operational loads that are seen on a vehicle.”
Carbon Revolution’s wheels have been tested in Europe and the US since 2010. The wheel called the ‘CR-9’ has been shown to save 40% to 50% in unsprung mass, delivering noticeable performance gains in acceleration, cornering and fuel economy compared with original equipment manufacturer equivalents made from aluminium. The wheels also reduce noise and vibration, due in part to the reduction in mass and the natural damping properties of the carbon fibre material. The direct application of Carbon Revolution’s wheels to current vehicles can yield an efficiency benefit of approximately 2% to 4%, providing a significant cost saving over the life of the vehicle and leading to reduced emissions. The wheels are also durable, impact resistant and have a life expectancy comparable to aluminium wheels.
Carbon Revolution’s technology is industry leading, and has been recognised by the Australian Government through significant commercialisation grant funding programs.
Intellectual property protection
Phillips Ormonde Fitzpatrick has been assisting Carbon Revolution with the protection of its intellectual property since the initial development of their new manufacturing process in 2008.
Intellectual property is viewed as an essential part of the company’s growth and commercialisation strategy. “Our IP Portfolio is arguably the company’s most valuable asset,” states Carbon Revolution’s Director of Technology Development, Matthew
Carbon Revolution now has an extensive portfolio of IP including:
- patent protection in Europe, the US, Australia and China for their overall manufacturing process
- patent protection for methods of attaching the wheel to a vehicle granted in Australia, and pending in Europe, the US, China, South Korea and Japan
- patent protection for internal design features granted in Australia and pending in other jurisdictions
- design protection in the US and Australia for the commercial design of their wheels, and pending patent protection for a number of critical components and features of the wheel.
“Our collaborative relationship with POF is extremely important to the company and has enabled us to aggressively develop and effectively manage our IP portfolio over the past five years.”
Carbon Revolution’s R&D and production facility at the Geelong Technology Precinct, within Deakin University, includes equipment and processes developed by the company specifically for the carbon fibre wheel. Producing the one-piece carbon fibre composite wheel merges the rigor of aerospace manufacturing processes with the efficiency and control of high volume automotive production.
Originally a small R&D start-up, Carbon Revolution’s organisation has evolved into a highly focused and effective group of leading engineers, scientists and industrialists within a tightly managed innovation cell. Rapid recent growth has resulted in a full pilot commercial production line currently capable of producing approximately 2,500 wheels per year.
Although elements of the current process remain relatively labour intensive, the ongoing development of bespoke process automation solutions is resulting in a steady increase in production capacity and providing opportunities for additions to the IP portfolio.
Construction has recently commenced on a full scale facility capable of producing 50,000 wheels per year with the capacity to expand to 250,000 wheels in the future as demand increases.
Carbon Revolution won a production contract with an overseas manufacturer in 2013, and negotiations are well progressed on further programs with original equipment manufacturers based in Europe. This facility is anticipated to service major vehicle manufacturer contracts as well as aftermarket sales to numerous offshore markets.
The CR-9 wheel is currently available for the Porsche 911, the Lamborghini Gallardo and the Audi R8. More fitments (starting with the BMW M3) are planned for the near future. R&D is already in place developing the next generation of industry leading wheel technology for both the world’s next generation super cars and high efficiency vehicles.
POF would like to thank Matthew Dingle from Carbon Revolution for his contribution to this article.