Ford Shares Details on Its New Carbon Fibre Wheels

Ford has released details on what it’s calling the worlds first mass produced carbon fibre wheels for the new Shelby GT350R Mustang.

The carbon fibre wheels become the worlds first to be mass-produced and fitted as standard, which Ford say offers extensive weight savings and improved chases performance over the traditional aluminium wheels.

Created with the help of Australian manufacture Carbon Revolution, these lightweight wheels reduce the cars unsprung weight which has a significant impact on handling and performance helping the car start, stop and turn faster by reducing wheel rotation.

A common misconception of carbon fibre is that while it’s strong, it’s also a brittle material. Some formulations may have this characteristic, but carbon fibre’s durability is a feature of the type of resin and design intent of the part. The wheels of Shelby GT350R are designed to be stiff, light and resilient.

One of the most severe tests for wheels in the Ford development process involves striking a curb at speed – a test that, without proper design, can cause serious wheel and tire damage. Because of the light weight, advanced construction methods and resins in the wheels, along with the highly developed MagneRide dampers, the suspension response was fast enough to greatly diminish the severity of the impact.

During track testing the performance capabilities of the braking system developed heat which required the maximum technology available from Carbon Revolution. When brake temperature measurements were taken, it was revealed the GT350R’s brakes were creating temperatures in excess of 900 degrees Celsius. As a result, the wheel design was elevated from a road car specification to a thermal standard more suitable for Motorsports.

For decades aerospace companies have treated turbine blade materials subject to extreme heat with ceramic coatings to help improve durability. The technology is also used in top-tier open-wheel racing environments. A thermal barrier coating system developed by Carbon Revolution uses this same technology.

Created specifically for Motorsports and aerospace applications where extreme temperature conditions are encountered, Carbon Revolution’s thermal barrier coating system uses a multistage, multimaterial coating formulation that provides a thermal barrier. Using a plasma arc gun to liquefy a ceramic material, the wheels are coated at critical points around the inner wheel “barrel” and on the back of the spokes. The result is an incredibly thin, nearly diamond-hard coating that reliably shields the resin from heat, reducing maximum wheel temperatures and allowing continuous track use by even the most aggressive drivers.

Manufacturing carbon fibre wheels begins with the creation of the preformed internal carbon structure, composed of precisely manufactured carbon strands arrayed into woven fabrics. An RFID chip with a unique tracking number is embedded in this structure, and each wheel is individually entered into a quality assurance system. Once this structure is assembled, it’s infused with resin and cured at high temperatures. This process results in a one-piece wheel that ensures maximum strength, eliminating the need to bond or glue the wheel’s spokes and barrel components together.

As the wheel cures, over 60 individual checks and more than 246,000 data points are logged before it’s released from the machine. To guarantee quality parts, the cured wheels are analysed using a 3D computerised tomography (CT) imaging process in which more than 18,000 X-ray images are taken. If the wheel passes inspection, it undergoes machining for the valve stem and mounting hardware holes before it gets painted, coated, assembled, dimensionally checked and shipped to Flat Rock Assembly Plant for installation on a new Shelby GT350R Mustang.

By cutting the weight of each wheel nearly in half compared to an equivalent aluminium wheel (18 pounds versus 33 pounds), handling and acceleration performance see serious benefits. The wheels also provide a reduction in rotational inertia of more than 40%, which positively impacts acceleration and braking performance.

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