The Global stint of Lightweighting vehicles, making them Greener, and foreshadowing challenges

Automotive Lightweighting

Stratview Research 23-04-2018

[A process that not only caters to weight reduction but also aims at curtailing emissions]

Modern day automotive manufacturers (OEM) are obsessed with improvising the currently applied designing and component manufacturing techniques, so as to ensure a significant abatement at the weights. This global stint of OEM’s, coined as Lightweighting, is further dichotomized into performance efficiency and reduction in emissions from the vehicles, thereby elevating the overall prolific aspect of the process. In this article, let’s have a closer look at the overall stage of development, ongoing challenges and possible solutions that might further ease the attainment of this international venture of Lightweighting by all the automotive OEM’s.

As the name implies, weight reduction is the primary objective for Lightweighting the automotives and this process is by far deduced to be a resultant of three of the main aspects of automotives. First of all, the substitutions of currently used materials by lightweight materials that have similar (or better) strength are the primary facets of the stint. Further, renovating the ongoing manufacturing processes and component designing methodologies to incorporate less mass bearing parts for automotives are the next set of targets for global automotive OEMs. In order to have an elaborate understanding of the composite materials (fibers + resin combo), its needed to further delve into the application of composite materials in this regard. But before getting into the material alternatives, it is also must to understand the challenges that decided the fate of finalizing these materials as an alternative to existing ones.

The biggest challenge for the OEMs across the world to choose a lighter material as an alternative was in terms of its overall cost when compared to concurrent ones. Also, the overall strength quotient was another key aspect that made the decision vary from one material to another, in terms of choice. This was followed by the challenge of readily acceptable formability. Finally, as most of the automotive manufacturing industries are already dependent on digital simulation and modeling systems, the availability of software modules for newer materials was even a bigger challenge.  Still, meticulous iterations and focused R&D cumulatively narrowed down the choice of open alternatives to a few options.

A lot of lighter options do exist for the conventionally deployed steel parts for the cars, like those of aluminum, plastic, titanium alloys, composite polymer compounds, carbon fibers, etc. However, not all of these can be directly put into use for peripheral parts of the automotives (varying strength matters the choice of material!!), with some of them being more apt for interiors rather than exterior parts. However, while most of Asian OEMs were looking after these options of composite materials as alternatives to existing ones, the automakers from North American and European markets hinged on to using steel composites for body frames, engine cradles, suspension parts, and body shell structures. Consequently, AHSS (advanced high strength steel) and UHSS (ultra high strength steel) came out to as the brilliant results of the above process.

AHSS is now accepted over its Aluminum and carbon fiber alternatives as it has been proved that use of AHSS not only resulted in almost 20-25% reduction in overall automotive weight, but it also reduced the consequent CO2 emission by approx 10 g/km for each quintal of weight reduced of the automotive. These results have delineated the overall confirmation of the fact that Lightweighting of the automotives can be attained via these materials with germane results in terms of overall performance efficiency and reduced emissions.

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