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Lightweight Construction Study: More Efficient and Economical With Lightweight Construction

Author / Editor: Claus-Peter Köth / Janina Seit

The study "Lightweight construction as a driver of innovation" provides arguments to underpin that lightweight construction can be inexpensive, improve competitiveness and significantly increase benefits for the end customer.

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Lightweight construction has an enormous influence on the performance of vehicles.
Lightweight construction has an enormous influence on the performance of vehicles.
(Source: Composites Europe/Behrendt und Rausch)

The biggest drivers of lightweight construction in the automotive industry of the future are governments and the end customer. Due to new emission regulations and the corresponding technical requirements, OEMs have to design lighter passenger cars and commercial vehicles. At the same time, the end consumer demands ecological, economical and sustainable vehicles. From a technological point of view, lightweight construction plays a central role in this area of tension, since it reduces the mass of a vehicle and therefore fuel consumption and emission values. At the same time lightweight construction can increase driving dynamics.

In spite of the OEMs' numerous efforts in the field of lightweight construction, the weight of the vehicles has risen steadily in recent years. Furthermore, lightweight construction is often associated with additional costs. Another issue is that lightweight construction is rarely perceived by the end customer. “Communication of the customer benefits is a significant challenge," explains Rainer Kurek, Managing Director of Automotive Management Consulting GmbH (AMC) from Penzberg near Munich.

Together with Reed Exhibitions and in cooperation with the automotive industry, Kurek has produced the study "Lightweight construction as an innovation driver". Among other things, it provides arguments for the industry to underpin that lightweight construction:

  • can be inexpensive, i. e. at least cost-neutral or cheaper in specific areas of automotive engineering.
  • improve the competitiveness of local companies, for example compared to (new) international competitors.
  • significantly increases end customer benefits.
  • is a major driver of innovation.

Renaissance of Steel

Lightweight construction has an enormous influence on the performance of vehicles. Therefore, the key words "efficiency" and "economy" were at the forefront of the in-depth interviews conducted by AMC. All companies appreciated the potential for energy savings resulting from consistent lightweight construction. It is also very important that all safety requirements (active, passive, integrated) are met despite lightweight construction. In addition, there are many other technical criteria that relate to the cost-effectiveness of lightweight construction itself (recycling) or to the environment (energy requirements, footprint) — for example, aluminium causes a high primary energy consumption compared to steel, but can be melted down relatively economically in terms of energy.

In general, steel is experiencing a renaissance. From an expert's point of view, the many years of experience with the material and the relatively low costs speak in favor of steel. Aluminium loses some of its radiance and magnesium is still considered too expensive for mass-production applications. Multi-material or composite materials are already widely used. The political guidelines regarding CO2 emission limits are also decisive. Impending fines are a driver of lightweight construction concepts, but they also compete with other methods and approaches such as more efficient combustion engines, alternative drives and aerodynamic measures.

Holistic Lightweight Construction Required

Many companies see a significant success factor for lightweight construction in the integration of lightweight material as well as functional and manufacturing processes of lightweight construction. Usually, the modules are developed on their own, which means that they are practically never transferred to the entire vehicle. However, holistic, systemic lightweight construction must take all modules of a vehicle into consideration. Seam joints, which previously hindered transfer to adjacent vehicle areas, have to be gradually reduced. The experts still see the greatest potential for lightweight construction in the body, powertrain and chassis. It is important to involve suppliers in the development of components, assemblies and modules as early as possible. In principle, suppliers are well advised to strengthen their own development competencies in order to be able to understand, control and implement the full scope. Furthermore, new lightweight construction approaches should have already been successfully applied in other industries, such as sports goods, aviation and/or construction.

Kurek concludes by saying that the developers used to think more about the material, but today they are tackling lightweight construction in an integrative manner. This hybrid lightweight design is a further trend: "We have to think very carefully about how the respective materials can be used in a way that conforms to the material's strengths. For example, composites absorb tensile forces very well, while metallic materials are more in demand for compressive forces."

You can get the whole study from the lite-forum.

This article was first published by Automobil Industrie.

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