Last week a few hundred engineers and designers from major German OEMs and Tiers gathered in the Bavarian town of Würzburg at the 7th LeichtbauGipfel (German for Lightweight Summit) to discuss how lightweight design impacts the vehicles we drive everyday.
This year’s event focused on “Lightweight Design for the Mobility of Tomorrow”. As Claus-Peter Köth, Chief Editor of Automobil Industrie, noted in his opening address, electrification, connectivity, and new manufacturing processes like additive manufacturing (AM) are transforming the auto industry and there is so much to do for engineers, designers, and executives to keep the pace of this transformation.
The morning keynotes featured engineering executives from most of the German OEMs addressing these topics. First in the lineup was Dipl.-Ing. Frank Venier, with Audi AG.
Audi’s engineers have been developing their ASF® (Audi Space Frame) for a number of years, and the latest evolution introduced with the new A8 is nothing short of exceptional. The new ASF is a combination of 29 different materials in an intelligent, lightweight, multi-material mix. That’s a solid foundation for a product – the 2018 Audi A8 – that establishes a new benchmark in the luxury segment, fulfilling Audi’s “Four S” product development vision: Shape, Shift, Sense and Space.
Audi’s fiercest Bavarian competitor, BMW AG, was up next, with Klaus Sammer and Robert Pisl representing respectively production and product development for the 6 Series Gran Turismo.
The new 2018 6 Series GT is simply a huge leap forward compared to its predecessor. Bigger and more elegant, the vehicle features many clever lightweight design solutions and when combined with better aerodynamics (Cd of 0.25), improves overall performance and reduces fuel consumption. We don’t really know what secret sauce was used to reach such outstanding achievements, but we can guess that having product development and production working side by side played a significant role.
The Dingolfing plant, where the 6 Series is produced along with another 1600 vehicles per day, is a modern, highly automated facility with 69 Km of automated conveyors and end-of-line quality checkpoints that send data back to production in real time to adjust parameters and assure maximum quality and repeatability. Industry 4.0 executed to perfection.
The next German automaker on stage was actually a British one. Since 1998, when Bentley Motors Ltd became part of Volkswagen group, they started sharing technologies and processes with its German counterpart. Hence, the latest Continental GT body has been developed in collaboration with Porsche on a platform shared with the Panamera.
One of the most interesting achievements in the 2018 Bentley Continents GT bodywork is the use of Superplastic Forming (SPF) for fenders and side panels; the latter being a world-first in production cars.
One of the greatest advantages offered by SPF is the ability to increase the aluminum alloy’s sheet metal elongation up to 300% before rupture (vs 26% for traditional aluminum cold forming). That translates to the ability to manufacture a stunning, muscular, yet elegant design, without compromises.
The implementation of the new technology posed some interesting design challenges, such as joining the extremely thin outer panels with the inner body sides. German and British ingenuity combined solved the problem quite brilliantly with a process called “knabbern” – German for nibble.
The last keynote presentation brought on stage was Dr. Thomas Behr from Daimler AG, who shared his thoughts on potentials and limitations of additive manufacturing (AM). After showing the evolution of AM and 3D printing over the course of the past four decades, Dr. Behn illustrated some interesting examples of how the technology – while still too expensive for most of the mass production applications – is already widely used by Daimler. For instance, Daimler is able to offer fleet customers customizations on orders of commercial vehicles.
Speaking of uprising technologies, we were delighted to see OptiStruct and Inspire results when he pointed out how topology optimization, a technology Daimler is widely using in product development, gives new means to explore original, lightweight design options.
Another trend that emerged from the presentations and following panel discussion, is the intrinsic link between e-mobility and lightweighting. Everyone understands the necessity to counterbalance for the additional battery weight on newly developed EV platforms, but it’s also clear that electrification alone will not solve all the issues.
As I said in the opening of my talk at the summit, lightweight design can play a significant role here, beyond merely “reducing weight”. We need to take a more holistic view of the problem and start delivering facts about the advantages of lightweighting. Altair’s approach has been well illustrated by Lars Fredriksson in his presentation on Disruptive Strategies for EV Development.
Dr. Fredriksson showed examples of automakers and tiers applying simulation-driven design during the different phases of development – from the initial definition of package, loads, and targets, to the integration and optimization of the structural, electrical, and electronic components – to deliver innovative products without delays.
Celebrating the outstanding achievements of these innovators in automotive lightweight design was the motivation for Altair to create – in collaboration with the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), SAE and Automobil Industrie – the Enlighten Award. Now in its 6th year, the Enlighten Award recognizes industry innovation in lightweighting with four prestigious categories.
If you are an innovator and would like to be considered for the 2018 Enlighten Award, we encourage you to send us your submissions! This year the award introduces a 4th category “The Future of Lightweighting”, which is targeted to innovators and start-ups. From the very positive reaction we received in Würzburg, there is no time to wait! We’re looking forward to celebrating new innovations in lightweighting at the 2018 Enlighten Award ceremony in July!