OEMs Look to Lightweighting and Systems Approach to Meet Regulations
U.S. President Barack Obama proposed a “year of action” in his 2014 State of the Union address, which focused mostly on healthcare, employment, and immigration reform. However, the president also touched on his commitment to the energy strategy and minimizing oil dependency. He emphasized how far the nation has come in terms of decreased energy usage, reduced carbon emissions, and improved fuel efficiency.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nearly 40 percent of the oil used in the United States is imported, at a cost of approximately $300 billion annually. That, combined with a desire to reduce carbon emissions even more has kept CAFE standards top of mind for policy and auto makers alike. To secure a sustainable future that doesn’t rely on imported oil, suppliers and manufacturers must continue to develop processes and technologies that improve fuel economy. Industry leaders are making significant progress by investing in lightweighting and systems integration technologies that enable OEMs to meet and exceed efficiency and emissions standards.
Making the Switch from Metals to Plastics
Improved technology is key for gaining ground on the lightweighting front. Suppliers are integrating materials like carbon fiber and high-performance plastics to achieve weight reduction targets for optimized fuel economy. A study by A.T. Kearney projects that “over the next decade, plastics will account for 18 percent of the average vehicle's weight, up from 14 percent in 2000.”
At Dana, we’re reducing weight under the hood by integrating manufacturing capabilities such as precision single- and multi-cavity thermoplastic injection molding and vibration welding. For example, our designers have applied the advantages of thermoplastics to oil pan modules by fusing multiple parts into a single component, which offers considerable weight reduction. Thermoplastics also allow for design integration, which facilitates component reduction and assembly cost savings.
While the use of lightweight materials is expected to rise, developing them is no simple task. Traditional materials, such as cast iron and steel, are being replaced by polymer composites, carbon fiber, and magnesium and aluminum alloys that require specific manufacturing processes like casting, sheet molding compound, and advanced curing processes. Engineers must adapt to an ever-changing environment as these materials and processes continuously evolve.
A Systems Approach to Improved Performance
Suppliers can also make strides toward increased fuel economy by furthering developments in engine downsizing and optimized system design. In our last post, we talked about the technology behind downsized engines. These engines rely on sophisticated drivetrains that efficiently convert power to torque while maintaining the performance that consumers demand. They also rely on durable, advanced systems that manage excess heat and effectively seal in engine fluids. Ideally, these thermal management and sealing systems should be engineered as a whole, rather than as individual components.
Engineers at Dana have strategically increased the integration of computer-aided engineering (CAE) into system development for improved analysis, simulation, testing, and evaluation, thus starting to enable a fully virtual system modeling and simulation approach (iCAE™). This allows engineers to closely monitor the coordination of physical testing with simulation modeling to improve forming, joining and assembly, static and dynamic vehicle performance, and crashworthiness to scrutinize every detail of the system components working together. This analytical approach reduces product development time while simultaneously reducing costs and validation cycle times.
The industry has been challenged with the task of improving fuel economy while maintaining performance, reducing emissions, and improving system design. Lightweighting and a systems-oriented approach provide manufacturers and suppliers with the opportunity to develop innovative materials and sophisticated design practices for the next chapter of global mobility.
- Where else can lightweighting be applied in vehicle design to help improve fuel economy?
- How is your organization using CAE to improve vehicle efficiency?
Published by David Nash