These trends, materials, and joining methods have the potential to impact the future of making lightweight vehicles meet evolving standards.

 

It gets us to where we need to go. Maybe there’s a look to it that that is appealing. Maybe you value speed, maybe you value mileage, maybe it’s brand loyalty, or maybe it’s affordability. Of course, this “it” is a car and all of these mentioned factors come into play for today’s automotive industry. Since Karl Benz created the three-wheeled Motor Car in 1886, travel has never been the same. Cars change due to shifts in regulations which require an increase in fuel economy. Lightweight materials are essential to increasing the fuel economy of today’s vehicles, all the while improving safety and performance. Less power is required to accelerate a lighter vehicle. Simply by reducing a vehicles weight by 10% can improve fuel economy by 6-8%. Out with the steel and cast iron, and in with aluminum, magnesium alloys, and polymer composites. 

However, stricter regulations are placing burdens are automakers. Consumers are also feeling the sting as a higher price tag comes along with these advancements. New standards are pressuring automakers to create cars that reach about 50 mpg by 2025, a big jump from the current 34 mpg standard. If the U.S. industry resists, they may stand to lose their competitive advantage on the market. Europe is aiming for 57 mpg by 2021.

There are several trends and materials which will continue to influence the move toward lightweight. 

3D Printing

3D printing has been around for decades, long before it became a popular new avenue for research. Aerospace is investing a lot of its R&D into utilizing 3D printing. Printers are being used to create components of larger size, moving from inches to feet.  Through 3D printing technology, weight can be reduced by substituting plastic compounds for metals. Made-to-order items can be equivalent substitutes to the components being traditionally manufactured today, but with the advent of  additive manufacturing they are now being manufactured in ways which are more cost efficient and faster to make. 

Metamaterials are being 3D printed with properties not found in nature.  Recently, researchers at MIT were able to 3D print objects using graphene. These objects had 10 times the strength of steel but about 5% of the weight. 

These 3D printing materials can be used to create strong cars that meet the evolving standards that are being set for automotive vehicles. Shedding weight is possible with the help of 3D printing. Not only do the materials make the difference when manufacturing these cars, but also the advancements in fastening. Although many 3D printed objects are still held together by traditionally made fasteners today, 3D printed structures mean fewer components for the future. Manufacturers are also looking for alternative fastening methods to further light weighting in the manufacturing process.

Adhesives and Alternatives

These flow-drilling screws can help car manufacturers lose some of the weight, but there are also other methods of joining that are impacting the move to lightweight. 

Modern adhesives and other sealants can currently reduce weight by an additional 15%. Solutions developed by Henkel Adhesive Technologies, for example, are replacing traditional methods such as brazing and soldering, welding, and screwing. Lighter bonded composites not only help with fuel economy, but also can eliminate weaker points as a result of fastener holes. Assembly will increase in speed and costs can go down through the use of structural adhesives

Alcoa’s newer fastening method was developed with the OEMs in mind. Their RSR technology combines spot welding and self-piercing rivets to join different materials together. This ability to manufacturing using various materials can reduce weight by 10 – 20%. Dissimilar materials with varying strengths in aluminum, steel, magnesium and composites can be joined together. 

While some have their sights focused on the growing skills gap, these advancements and shifts in automotive manufacturing are going to impact not only how the cars are made, but also industries, such as fasteners, who supply to them. 

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