Lightweight Construction: Less is more
Good for the environment
Lightweighting is a construction philosophy based on maximizing weight reduction. Lightweight design is about more than just cutting down on weight. It also involves saving important resources while at the same time realizing strong economic potential.
An important aspect of lightweight construction is the reduction of environmentally harmful emissions like carbon dioxide. The fuel and energy requirements for vehicles and other machines can be reduced using lightweight design strategies, and less material is required for their construction.
A product's life cycle from its development to recycling plays a key role in lightweight design. This is an important incentive for consumers in an age where they are becoming more conscious of their environmental impact.
Perhaps the most decisive economic advantage to lightweight design is the added value that it produces. Lighter vehicles not only consume less fuel, they also offer a more dynamic performance such as in their acceleration and behavior in curves. This makes lighter vehicles more fun to drive – and more attractive to consumers. The material reduction can also boost profitability or reduce costs.
In one example, an airline was able to reduce weight by 1.5 tons per flight by using new lightweight seats. Thanks to the additional weight reduction, the range of the aircraft was increased and new destinations could be added resulting in increased revenue and excellent PR opportunities – a clear economic benefit.
Opportunities and potential
Modern markets continue to demand better, more affordable products. This can be seen in both national and international markets. Lightweighting research institutes are being established around the world, including the project “Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow” (LIFT) which was established by the US government through a 160 million dollar grant.
In order to fulfill its full potential, lightweight construction must be seen from different angles. There are many more ways to reduce weight than simply replacing metal with carbon fiber reinforced plastics. Design strategies can create single components that can take on multiple functions or comprehensive design may eliminate the need for certain functions altogether. One way of reducing weight is through function centered design. In such applications, material functions are modeled after natural phenomena and only used where necessary.
The consistent exchange
Those looking into the crystal ball to glimpse at future developments may realize that material substitution will remain an important factor in lightweight construction, but a paradigm shift has already begun. In the near future, the key issues will be finding the right material for the right function in the right place. The keyword for this future development is "multi-material design", i.e. hybrid lightweighting and "conceptual lightweight design".
Researchers have already developed specific lightweight methods which focus on weight reduction in the early development and product design phases. These early steps in the production process typically determine 70 to 80 percent of the products final weight. Such a large proportion cannot be reclaimed later simply through using lighter materials. The key factor is to determine the most important and vital functionality early in the design process.
This shift in thinking covers not only the conceptual lightweight design but also innovative production processes like the digitization of the value chain.
"We summarize the idea with three words: design, processing and simulation,"
Innovation and digitization
The consistent exchange of lightweighting information is a key element for reducing development time and producing better products with more efficient and comprehensible production steps. Simulation is vital in every step from the design of single components to the provision of the final product in the shortest amount of time possible.
Conceptual lightweight design is essentially a rethinking of the entire resulting production system or component systems. It no longer focuses on mere weight reduction, but also on creating completely new construction strategies. Calling old assumptions into question, including asking if the car of the future can have less than four wheels, is not only allowed, but encouraged.
(Source: Leichtbau BW GmbH)