July 10, 2022

Making Things Less Heavy

As materials and production processes evolve, lightweighting will continue to emerge as an increasingly beneficial sustainable design approach. The lighter the products, the more significant potential for increasingly more energy efficiency of product offerings. More importantly, these designs should also provide additional safety for customers.
Lightening the Load

We continue to focus this week on sustainable design.  The work will build on the previously shared topics of circular design, Cradle to Cradle design, and biomimicry.  As new materials emerge and production processes evolve, there will continue to be further opportunities to improve the energy efficiency of products purchased by our customers.  In addition, Lightweighting is an opportunity to provide more sustainable designs.

"By strategically removing material from parts and components to reduce their overall weight, manufacturers can take advantage of a number of ancillary benefits, including greater part efficiency, significant cost savings, and expanded material choices." - Tristan Antonsen
When Lighter is Better

Avi Reichental, in a blog post, makes a statement that lightweighting is "making something less heavy." He further shares that this is emerging as a critical concern for the automotive and transportation industries.  A typical approach is usually a material substitution or reduction.  An automotive industry example that comes to mind is Ford introducing a military-grade aluminum-alloy body F-150 pickup truck.  Some may remember the Chevrolet Silverado advertisements showing their high-strength steel holding up better when dropping concrete blocks into the bed of their pickup versus that of the aluminum body Ford.  The result was minor scratches and dents in the Chevy bed, while the Ford aluminum bed experienced severe damage.  Chevy's ad suggested that bed durability was more important than fuel economy gains from a truck that was 700 pounds lighter.  But, then, one might ask why Ford would build an aluminum truck body?

CAFE Standards

The evolution of lightweighting is related in part to the 2025 CAFE standards.  A March 31, 2020, news release announced a change of 5% to 1.5% in yearly improvement in CAFE and CO2 emissions for the 2021-2026 model years.  Since CAFE and CO2 emissions are likely to continue as global concerns, there will be a market need to advance new materials technologies—one reason why Ford went with an aluminum body design.

Lightweighting to the Next Level

Bill Koenig, the senior editor at SME Media, indicates that lightweighting is entering a new phase.  The expected rush to replace steel with aluminum is transitioning to a mix of materials that will differ across vehicle types.  Ultimately the expectation is that composite materials are the long-term answer.  However, as the retired president of the Center of Automotive Research (CAR), Jay Baron, states that weight and strength are only part of the equation where cost, vibration, and stiffness need to be adequately considered from a design perspective.  While not included in the article, developing the production processes required to manufacture composites and post-purchase needs to consider factors like body repair after a vehicle crash is critical.  These are just a few of the many actions needed to shift from current vehicle designs to those that will emerge in the future.   As is frequently the case, these new technologies are being first adopted in luxury vehicles.

The Future of Lightweighting

Fitzgerald and Mazumdar of Lucintel presented at the 2018 Composites Europe industry meeting on the future of lightweight technologies.  They predicted a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5% in global lightweight materials demand.  Market estimates for global composites will reach $28 billion by 2025 with a similar 5% CAGR.  The momentum is gaining with a logical initial adoption in high-end vehicles built by OEMs, including Audi, BMW, Ferrari, and Lamborghini.  Initial uses include bumpers, c-pillars, chassis, fenders, floor panels, hoods, roofs, and tailgates.  The presentation included a case study on BWM's use of carbon composites.  Benefits included the expected weight savings and improved mileage.  For example, the BMW i3 has 9% greater MPGe than Nissan Leaf and 19% greater than Tesla Model S.  The i3 weight was 19% less than the Leaf and 43% lighter than the Model S.  The price comparison was the i3 at about $42,000 with the Leaf at $30,000 and the Model S at $70,000.

shattha pilabut on Pexels
Military-Grade Aluminum-Alloy or High-Strength Steel?

The Chevy vs. Ford example shows the need to adapt materials to the vehicle owner's needs.  My experience is that most pickup owners never haul anything beyond occasional groceries in their truck bed, so the concrete blocks are probably not an issue.  If so, they could spend $500 to buy a bed liner.  On the other hand, someone who works a ranch or in the construction industry might want to go with a Chevy.  The trickle-down of materials advancement to lower-cost models will be interesting to see.  We can expect similar results with an adaptive cruise control system with lane-centering assist and automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, which were once available on high-end vehicles and are now available on lower-end cars.

Key Takeaway

As materials and production processes evolve, lightweighting will continue to emerge as an increasingly beneficial sustainable design approach.  The lighter the products, the more significant potential for increasingly more energy efficiency of product offerings.  More importantly, these designs should also provide additional safety for customers.

Next Step

A video from Siemens on lightweighting looks at improved performance, reduced environmental impact, and the saving of precious material resources.  Furthermore, the transportation industry benefits from more sustainable airplanes, automobiles, railroad locomotives and cars, and shipping vessels.  Another example of design improvement is reducing the complexity of a race car gas pedal from four components to one that requires fewer processes and reduces the weight by 62%.

My Gratitude

I am grateful to all engineers using creative lightweighting designs that make our products safer and more sustainable.  Individually there may be a sense that little impact is the result of their work, but collectively it is making a significant difference.

Sneak Peek

Next week's blog will look at the benefits of graphene as a material that will lead to the design of more superior products that aligns with the humanist manufacturing framework.  

To learn more about our work or read more blog posts, visit emmanuelstratgicsustainability.com.

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