Composite materials have emerged as promising materials in applications where low weight and high strengths are desired. Aerospace industry has been using composite materials for past several decades exploiting their characteristics of high strength to weight ratio over conventional homogenous materials. To provide a wider selection of materials for design optimization, and to develop lighter and stronger vehicles, automobile industries have been exploring the use of composites for a variety of components, assemblies, and structures. Composite materials offer an attractive alternate to traditional metals as designers have greater flexibility to optimize material and structural shapes according to functional requirements. However, any automotive structure or part constructed from composite materials must meet or exceed crashworthiness standards such as Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 208. Therefore, for a composite structure designed to support the integrity of the automotive structure and provide impact protection, it is imperative to understand the energy absorption characteristics of the candidate composite structures. In the present study, a detailed finite element analysis is presented to evaluate the energy absorbing characteristics of a carbon fiber reinforced polymer composite lower rail, a critical impact mitigation component in automotive chassis. For purposes of comparison, the analysis is repeated with equivalent aluminum and steel lower rails. The study was conducted using ABAQUS CZone module, finite element analysis software. The rail had a cross-sectional dimension of 62 mm (for each side), length of 457.2 mm, and a wall thickness of 3.016 mm. These values were extracted from automobile chassis manufacturer’s catalog. The rail was impacted by a rigid plate of mass 1 tonne (to mimic a vehicle of 1000 Kg gross weight) with an impact velocity of 35 mph (15646.4 mm/s), which is 5 mph over the FMVSS 208 standard, along its axis. The simulation results show that the composite rail crushes in a continuous manner under impact load (in contrast to a folding collapse deformation mode in aluminum and steel rails) which generates force-displacement curve with invariable crushing reactive force for the most part of the crushing stroke. The energy curves obtained from reactive force-displacement graphs show that the composite rail absorbs 240% and 231% more energy per unit mass as compared to aluminum and steel rails. This shows a significant performance enhancement over equivalent traditional metal (aluminum and steel) structures and suggests that composite materials in conjunction with cellular materials/configurations have a tremendous potential to improve crashworthiness of automobiles while offering opportunities of substantial weight reductions.

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