The cars the geniuses at Alfa Romeo produce are among the prettiest, best performing, and most sought after on the planet. Among the newest models in their lineup is the simply-named 4C, a sleek, stylish coupe capable of reaching speeds of 160 MPH. And it doesn’t just look good and blow the doors off the competition—the 4C is also something of a technological marvel.
While the 4C’s 237-horsepower engine certainly helps it reach its face-ripping top speeds (while getting 34 MPGs highway), it owes much of its superior performance to its exceptionally lightweight chassis and body panels. Made from aluminum and carbon fiber composite materials, the car weighs only 1,973 pounds in total.
Aluminum, you’re probably familiar with—it’s used to make soda cans and literally thousands of other everyday items. Carbon fiber, however, is a relatively new material in the “making stuff out of it” game. It provides manufacturers with a nigh-unparalleled strength-to-weight ratio, and, though it can be expensive to produce, these costs are dropping every day. Carbon fiber’s versatility and durability make it ideal for automobiles and other high-performance applications, and it’s slowly finding its way into smaller consumer and technical applications, as well.
Essentially, carbon fiber is a super strong filament material that can be spun into “yarns,” which are then overlaid on a framework from which the end product takes its shape. After the carbon fiber is molded into shape (in any of a number of ways), the framework can be removed, leaving the intended form behind.
With the carbon fiber components ready to go, Alfa Romeo then machined them into the exact form the 4C’s chassis required using CNC router technology (specifically, CNC technology from CMS North America).
If you’re unfamiliar, CNC machining is one of the most amazing things that was ever a thing. CNC machines can cut pieces, drill holes, sand or otherwise “finish” components, mill and/or lathe—essentially, and kind of “work” that needs to be done to turn raw materials into finished parts.
That’s all well and good on its own, sure, but CNC takes it about a million steps further by DOING IT ALL FOR YOU. All an operator has to do is give the machine the part information (usually in the form of a CAD or CAM model—computerized versions of blueprints, basically), and the CNC system will do every last operation without supervision.
AND, it can do it over and over and over again, still without supervision. Many CNC machines include technology that allows the system to move finished pieces out of the work area, bring in fresh materials off the pile, and keep making the parts you need until they run out of material. And every single piece will be an exact, perfect replica of the first one, because computers.
If that’s not state-of-the-art, I don’t know what is.