Germany: Lightweight Construction Maximum Performance Achieved
Dr. Ulrich Widmann, Head of Functional Design at Audi, looks beyond the latest model: "Bionics, functional integration and hybrid structures are becoming increasingly important in the lightweight construction of the future.”
Dr. Widmann, the new Audi A8 shows corners and edges in its sheet metal body that would not have been possible a few years ago. When will the limits of formability be reached?
To put it bluntly, in the new Audi A8 we have shown our present abilities in ultra-modern forming technology and our high level of expertise in lightweight construction. But this is not the end of the road: development is continuing. Our aim is to implement whatever is required for the Audi design. We make no compromises. I can also say this: Our designers are very happy that we have also succeeded in achieving these targets in the new A8.
What progress have you been making regarding "Bionic Structures", which is a very interesting aspect in lightweight construction?
Bionics offers very valuable inspirations for lightweight construction. We demonstrated that Audi is keeping up with this topic by using bionic structures on the rocker panels of the current Audi TT. We are consistently following this path. For the next generation of the A8, we have developed a new structural casting alloy that allows us to produce very thin-walled, yet highly robust parts. One example is the rear shock mount: a large cast part that connects the C and D pillar, whose design is based on bionic structures.
What lies ahead for the material mix in chassis construction?
The new A8 is the best example of where the journey is heading: towards intelligent hybrid structures. The A8 consists of 29 materials, including eleven different steel grades and eight aluminium alloys. The future lies in "merging" different materials into one component. In the pre-development phase, we are involved in combining different material layers and so-called soft components, such as air. The different material properties complement each other and lead to optimized stability and weight. The soft layer provides a very effective acoustic insulation. It would be conceivable to use it for example in a front or rear wall.
Electric mobility also takes its toll on lightweight construction. Because with the heavy batteries, additional mass is added to the car.
Doesn't that role back many of the painstakingly made achievements of lightweight construction?
Changes drive development. Therefore, we also consider the challenges posed to us by electromobility as an opportunity to become even more innovative. More than ever, intelligent solutions are required. The integration of functions is an important keyword in this respect.
What do you have in mind?
In the case of Ducati motorcycles, the engine is part of the load-bearing structure. What the Group's colleagues in the two-wheeler segment have managed to achieve is, in principle, also transferable to automobiles: the functional integration of the drive battery into the overall system is still a visionary idea, but nonetheless a very attractive one. This is particularly true with regard to intelligent lightweight construction, to which we have committed ourselves.
This article was first published at Automobil Industrie.