PLYMOUTH, MI – Sanluis Rassini, a global designer and manufacturer of suspension and brake components, launches development of a new plastic composite aimed at satisfying OEM demand for lightweight but robust alternative materials as fuel economy and emissions standards tighten in markets around the world.
“We understand where the market is going,” says Norman Jacobs, vice president-Sales, Suspension Group North America, at Sanluis Rassini. “We are focused on new materials, not just composites but other high-strength materials and processing, that will allow us to provide in the coming years lighter products for our customers.”
The latest development from Sanluis Rassini leverages the Mexico City-based supplier’s long history of partnering with other parts makers and industry organizations to conduct testing for a first application of its Continuous Fiber Thermoplastic Composite technology.
Together with reinforcement-materials expert PPG Fiber Glass and thermoplastic-composite developer Polystrand, Sanluis Rassini will invest $5 million to support an entry in the Grand Touring Lite classification of the Sports Car Club of America.
GTL cars are purpose-built, highly modified replicas of series-produced sports cars.
Sanluis Rassini’s entry is based on an early-1990s Honda CRX, “although I don’t think an original part remains on the car today,” says Robert Friedrichs, vice president-Engineering, Suspension Group North America, at Sanluis Rassini.
The GTL class sets safety and engine-output rules, but allows competitors great freedom in chassis, alternative-materials use and drivetrain and suspension options.
The Sanluis Rassini CRX uses CFTC technology for the leaf springs of the race car’s 4-link, fully adjustable rear suspension.
Since the material is a composite, the weight-saving benefits are a given, Friedrichs says. So the big benefit of CFTC is its recyclability, long a detriment to employing plastic instead of steel and aluminum. Steel and aluminum can be recycled much more easily than composites.
CFTC also boasts great flexibility, which allows Sanluis Rassini to shape it into a wide variety of parts.
“Those two things alone were enough for us to put a lot of stock into it,” Friedrichs says.
Sanluis Rassini employs nylon at hook-up points to protect CFTC parts married to steel and aluminum. Nylon also reduces noise.
A 15-year relationship with Polystrand ensures good availability of CFTC should the technology take off, Friedrichs adds. He expects that to occur, too, as additional applications are proved over the next 12-18 months.
However, CFTC represents only one alternative technology Sanluis Rassini has been pursuing for its global customers, which in North America includes heavy hitters such as the Detroit Three and Volkswagen. Sanluis Rassini technology also appears on some of the highest-volume vehicles from those automakers, such as the Chevrolet Silverado and Ford F-150 large pickups.
Better Ride Targeted
For example, the supplier is nearing completion on a new forming process for suspension springs to put strength where it is necessary and back off on robustness where it is not needed. The process has yielded a 20% weight-saving versus steel in half-ton truck applications, or about 55 lbs. (25 kg) per spring. In the three-quarter-ton segment, it sees 30%-40% weight savings.
Sanluis Rassini engineers also are looking at ways to reposition suspension parts to improve ride quality, and the company sees another weight-saving opportunity by strengthening springs to eliminate other structural members of the suspension.
But the supplier has its eye on an even bigger prize: a bulletproof variable-rate suspension.
“There isn’t a catch-all suspension out there,” Jacobs says, noting consumer preferences vary widely between firm and cushy rides. “But there’s a reason a person is buying this type of car for that type of ride. If you could have a variable suspension you could catch them all, and that’s the target.
An adjustable suspension also would boost fuel economy, especially in trucks, where ride heights could be lowered at highway speeds to reduce drag. Many luxury vehicles use the technology and it has appeared on a number of mainstream vehicles over the years, but durability has always been an issue.
Raising and lowering a vehicle also affects other items, such as the aim of the headlights and handling characteristics, so the systems can be awfully complex.
Nonetheless, Friedrichs says, “Squatting a truck just an inch (2.5 cm) at highway speeds is a huge opportunity.”