Innovation is worth recognition. Each year, Altair aims to recognize achievements in lightweighting across the automotive industry with the Altair Enlighten Award. 2013 was the inaugural year for the award, which went to leading chemical company BASF. Original equipment manufacturers and parts/systems/materials suppliers are eligible for the award, which has elicited interest from industry, engineers, policymakers, educators, students, and the public. Not only does the Enlighten Award honor commercial achievements, it also seeks to foster competition and spark new ideas in both industry and academia.
BASF is a chemical company that supplies a range of products to the automotive industry, including engineering plastics, polyurethane, and many specialty materials and chemicals. The company is also a leader in leveraging virtual simulation technology and optimization in its design process. Recently, BASF collaborated with GM Opel to develop a thermoplastic composite seat pan for the 2012 Opel Astra OPC sport coupe – an initiative which led to receipt of the Altair Enlighten Award.
The majority of seat pans are made from multiple stamped steel components that are welded together. However, the Opel Astra OPC seat pan is different: it is made from thermoplastic laminate with continuous fiber reinforcement (organo sheet), and is the world’s first automotive seat pan manufactured for a production vehicle. But what is thermoplastic laminate with continuous fiber? How is it better than other seat pans?
Thermoplastic laminate with continuous fiber reinforcement is an example of a composite material. This is basically a plastic-impregnated fabric processed into a laminate which serves as the reinforcement in plastic parts that must be especially lightweight, yet still exhibit exceptional performance characteristics. This makes the parts lighter and stronger, enabling tremendous savings in vehicle weight.
Engineers at BASF leveraged virtual simulation and optimization techniques to lay out the material to achieve the most efficient structure. As a result, BASF helped Opel achieve an astounding 45% weight reduction for the component. “We collaborated with the customer to create new design processes and material solutions that deliver measurable, cost-effective and sustainable benefits,” said Dr. Martin Jung, Senior Vice President of Global Research for Structural Materials at BASF. “The challenge was that Opel wanted to have a seat for a sports car, so it should be light; it should be thin, because you want to have the feeling of the street; and it should be a very innovative material.” You may view the full video here.
The Altair Enlighten Award was presented to BASF in collaboration with the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) during the Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Michigan last year. “BASF’s winning design used a blended approach of material substitution and material removal,” explains David Mason, Vice President of Global Automotive at Altair. “Ultimately, it will be a combination of lightweight material removal leveraging optimization software, and substitution with advanced materials that will be the successful formula to achieve the industry’s fuel economy goals at the right price.”
Here are the profiles of the 2014 nominees. We look forward to announcing the 2014 Altair Enlighten Award winner next week!