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‘Lamborghini Lab’ Brings Composite Parts To Sports Car Arena

October 7, 2009

A partnership between the University of Washington and the Italian sports-car company Automobili Lamborghini has been formalized, and the presidents of both organizations yesterday attended the naming ceremony of the UW’s Automobili Lamborghini Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory.

The UW is the first university in the country to collaborate with Lamborghini. The company has committed to provide substantial funding for lab equipment and support for UW undergraduate and graduate students.

“This partnership is a win-win situation,” said Matthew O’Donnell, dean of the UW’s College of Engineering. “It further establishes the Pacific Northwest as a leader in composites research, it funds equipment for a UW engineering lab and it provides students with valuable research experience that’s directly tied to real-world applications.”

The UW and Lamborghini have worked closely during the past two years. The UW lab has hosted Lamborghini engineers for month-long periods; UW faculty have traveled to Italy to conduct small classes on the fundamentals of composites design and certification; and the university has sent engineering graduate students for internships at Lamborghini’s Bologna headquarters.

“Lamborghini remains committed to investing in its future, and advancing carbon fiber composite technologies is the key to achieving many of our goals,” said Lamborghini president Stephan Winkelmann, who attended the ceremony. “The UW and its collaborations have enabled Automobili Lamborghini to proceed with confidence in the development of innovative, composite-intensive structures.”

Composite materials are made up of distinct parts — plywood, fiberglass and polyester are all composite materials. High-end industries are beginning to use materials such as carbon fiber combined with epoxy, itself a composite material, to build stronger and lighter components.

“Composites are no longer the future, they are the present of structural materials for anything that’s high-performance, whether it’s aerospace or golf clubs or sports cars,” said lab director Paolo Feraboli, a UW assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics. “Monolithic materials like aluminum just won’t cut it anymore.”

Feraboli, a native of Italy, earned his undergraduate degree in Bologna and worked at Lamborghini on composite materials in 2001 and 2002. He continued a relationship with Lamborghini while establishing the UW’s Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory in 2007.

The lab’s equipment includes a lightning-strike generator for simulated lightning strikes up to 100,000 amps; a drop tower for inflicting damage from foreign objects; a pneumatic crash sled capable of crushing full-size vehicle prototypes; and a high-speed video camera that can take 82,000 frames per second. Research focuses on short-term, industry-driven testing of new materials in scenarios such as bird strike, lightning strike or, in this case, crashes.

Lamborghini uses carbon fiber, a strong, lightweight composite material, in its new cars. The Murcielago LP 670-4 SuperVeloce incorporates carbon composites in its floor, transmission tunnel and outer skin, for a total of roughly one third composite materials by weight. Lamborghini says it plans to increase power-to-weight ratios of its cars by using composites to decrease the vehicles’ overall mass, which also lowers carbon dioxide emissions.

For more than a decade UW aeronautics engineers have worked closely with the Boeing Co. to develop and test composite parts for the 787 Dreamliner. Testing for Lamborghini means exploring different questions, as well as having the flexibility to develop prototype parts in a shorter turnaround time, Feraboli noted.

Today’s events at the UW, sponsored by Lamborghini, included speeches, test drives of Lamborghini cars and lab tours.

“Partnerships between the UW and industry leaders like Lamborghini give our students the advantage of working on real-world problems,” said UW President Mark Emmert. “We are excited that UW researchers and Lamborghini engineers will be collaborating to bring innovative materials to the automobile industry.”

By Hannah Hickey, University of Washington

Image Caption: Lamborghini’s Murcielago LP 670-4 SuperVeloce, shown here, incorporates carbon composites in its floor, transmission tunnel and outer skin, for a total of roughly one third composite materials by weight. Courtesy Automobili Lamborghini

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