New ceramic coating enables wider adoption of composite materials

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.

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.”

The chemistry of the compound and the application process has been modified specifically for application to composite materials from Zircotec’s pre-existing plasma-applied ceramic coating.

“With combustion temperatures rising and more heat being retained in the exhaust to ensure efficient operation of turbocharging and aftertreatment 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.”

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 year.

“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.”

The coating has been trialled with several European vehicle manufacturers and is now available for wider application.

Tom Austin-Morgan

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