Back in 2010 at the Paris motor show Lamborghini unveiled the Sesto Elemento a unique concept car showcasing its innovative carbon fibre manufacturing technologies. Production of the Sesto Elemento is expected to commence later in the year at Lamborghini’s new pre-production and prototyping center. The price tag is an estimated 2 million euros and we take a look at just what type of composite technologies go into Lamborghini’s new supercar.
The name of this technology demonstrator is derived from the periodic table, where carbon is classified as the sixth element. The super sports car brand from Sant’Agata Bolognese claims to be the only vehicle manufacturer in the world to have mastered the complete CFRP process across a range of technologies, from 3D design through simulation, validation, production and testing all in a state-of-the-art industrial process.
Boasting an extremely lightweight construction thanks to its advanced carbon-fibre technology, the Lamborghini Sesto Elemento has an overall curb weight of just 999 kilograms (2,202 lb) including V10 power unit and permanent all-wheel drive.
Carbon fibre is visible everywhere on the car, the Sesto is finished in a new, matt-shimmer clear coat, meaning that the CFRP structure can be seen throughout. Yet the car is not just black, during the final stage of production the carbon fibre parts receive a newly developed and patented coat. Nano-Technology makes it possible to add fine crystals with a￼red shimmer. Surfaces covered with this type of finish glow red and deliver an outstanding effect. Further, the surface is particularly robust.
Stephan Winkelmann, President and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini explains;
The Lamborghini Sesto Elemento shows how the future of the super sports car can look – extreme lightweight engineering, combined with extreme performance results in extreme driving fun. We put all of our technological competence into one stunning form to create the Sesto Elemento It is our abilities in carbon-fibre technology that have facilitated such a forward-thinking concept, and we of course also benefit from the undisputed lightweight expertise of AUDI AG. Systematic lightweight engineering is crucial for future super sports cars: for the most dynamic performance, as well as for low emissions. We will apply this technological advantage right across our model range. Every future Lamborghini will be touched by the spirit of the Sesto Elemento.
Lamborghini explain that a major strength of the carbon fibre technology is that complex structures can be integrated into one single component. This improves quality and reduces weight. On the Lamborghini Sesto Elemento, the front and rear of the body shell are each manufactured in a single piece. Engineers call this “cofango”, created by combining the Italian word “cofano” (hood) with “parafango” (fender). The large components are attached by using easily removable fasteners, in order to have fast component disassembly. The “cofango” is also reminiscent of an icon from the brand’s history: in 1966, the legendary Lamborghini Miura was unique as a mid-engine super sports car – and its rear cover, too, could be opened in one piece.
Based on the form, function and operational demands of the individual Sesto Elemento components, engineers from Lamborghini’s R&D selected largely from three CFRP manufacturing techniques;
Forged Composite: Here, materials with short carbon fibres are hot pressed in a mould. The process facilitates complex structures and is used for parts such as the underside of the monocoque and the suspension arms.
Prepreg: The carbon-fibre mats are soaked in a thermoset liquid resin. They are pressed in moulds and cured in an oven under heat and pressure. Prepreg components have a very good surface finish and are therefore the preferred choice for use in visible areas.
Braiding: This is a method to manufacture composite filament derived from the textile industry. Each thread is diagonally intertwined on different levels.
Lamborghini possesses many years of experience with carbon-fibre reinforced materials. As far back as 1983, it produced the first prototype CFRP chassis for the Countach, with the first series production parts appearing in 1985. The current Lamborghini Murciélago is made largely from CFRP – its body-in-white contains 93 kilograms of carbon-fibre materials. The ￼engine cover panel of the Gallardo Spyder is one of the largest CFRP components with class A surface quality in the automotive world.
The company is now working steadily to expand its position. The new Advanced Composites Research Centre (ACRC) at the company headquarter in Sant’Agata Bolognese is working on innovative construction and production methods for carbon-fibre elements in automobile design.
This new Advanced Composite Research facility secures leading-edge research on innovative materials and production methods for carbon fibre elements for small production volumes. Here, over 30 experts develop vehicle components of all shapes and sizes. They build prototypes and the associated production tools while developing optimised production technologies. Sophisticated systems largely developed in-house allow extremely high precision levels as engineers simulate manufacturing processes as well as carry out crash tests on complex carbon-fibre structures. Thanks to the extensively patented “RTM Lambo” process, Lamborghini can use minimal pressure and relatively low temperatures to manufacture carbon-fibre components to the highest levels of quality, precision and surface finish, from small parts to complex vehicle structures. Further benefits include higher process speeds, lower costs, and extremely light tooling.
The Lamborghini Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory (ACSL) at the University of Washington uses experimental tests to define the mechanical behavior of the different materials and technologies using methodology from the aviation industry. The team of research engineers in Seattle works with very specific instruments and methods in close cooperation with the R&D headquarters and the ACRC in Sant’Agata Bolognese.