Detroit — Opportunities for new materials and processes in the automotive sector are abundant, as automakers and suppliers increasingly feel the pressure to reduce weight and lower costs.
But reaching those goals will require a multitude of approaches such as learning from previous strategies, pursuing multimaterial applications and ongoing collaboration among the OEMs, material suppliers and parts makers, according to three speakers at Antec.
"If you don't look where you've been, you don't know where you're going. And for a long time, nobody in the industry cared about weight," Alan Taub, a professor of materials science and engineering as well as mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan, told conference attendees.
Taub is also a senior technical adviser at LIFT (Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow), a public-private partnership focused on the development of advanced lightweight materials and manufacturing methods. He provided a historical overview of the auto industry's use of materials such as steel, wood, aluminum, plastics and others, during a March 18 keynote address.
For decades, the name of the game was "how fast you could accelerate and how beautiful the car looked," Taub said. "Nobody talked about sustainability. Nobody talked about environmental impact."
But the name of the game has changed.
"We have entered an era where true weight reductions are occurring," he said.
The majority of fuel economy gains come from improved engine and transmission performance as well as the introduction of partial and full electrification, but Taub said about 15 percent comes from weight reduction.
"A good rule of thumb? If I decrease the weight of a car by 10 percent, I can get a 6 percent fuel economy improvement," said Taub, adding that the first step for achieving weight reduction is improving design.
This includes not only deploying better mechanical design, but also swapping materials, which have improved over the years in terms of their lightweight attributes.