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Lightweight construction is one of today’s most exciting mega-trends. Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and the VDMA Composite Technology Forum are forecasting annual growth of 17 percent for carbon-fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) through 2020. Particularly in view of dwindling reserves of raw materials and energy resources, this technology is exploiting its greater efficiency to the hilt. At the same time, "lean design" is powering a reduction in CO2 emissions and more ecologically friendly industrial processes.

The key to the electric car

In the realm of functionality, lightweight construction also offers a wide range of advantages – above all in areas where heavy masses are accelerated and decelerated, as in transportation and transport. After all, every extra bit of extra weight on a vehicle means added fuel consumption.

For conventional cars in general, lightweight construction represents a decisive advantage. But for electric cars in particular, it represents a key technology, since only the lowest possible weight makes it possible for these cars to reach their next charging station before the battery goes empty – and those stations are still few and far between.

Innovations for all sectors of industry

As the penultimate cross-industry technology, lightweight construction serves as an innovations driver in a number of different fields. Apart from the automotive industry, this primarily includes rail transport, aviation and aeronautics, mechanical engineering, construction, medical technology and energy engineering, but also wood, paper and textiles.

The challenge consists in meeting and exceeding the standards of established procedures. The future will see an increased combination of materials: hybrid and composite materials, metals, alloys, fiber-reinforced plastics, ceramics and even renewable raw materials. The wide variety of materials, manufacturing processes and design principles being used will facilitate the production of new products in virtually every sector of industry, and perhaps even open up new markets which are currently inconceivable. After all, the results are not only more lightweight and ecologically friendly, but also often present concrete user benefits, including additional features and room for even more creative designs.

Lightweight visions of the future

The above-mentioned VDMA study also forecasts a cross-industry triumph for innovative materials, citing such key drivers as increased demand in aviation and aeronautics, wind turbines and mechanical engineering. Falling construction costs are also reinforcing this trend: By 2020 they are predicted to come in 30 percent lower than today. This will accelerate the introduction of new materials in the marketplace.

The relevant production processes in particular offer great potential for cost reductions. Many companies today are relying not just on high-tech materials, but are also procuring things with cheaper but equally effective materials. The Dresden-based startup LignoTUBE makes bike frames from wood veneer tubes, while the bamboo ring design by CONBOU is used for furniture production and stage-building as well as for prefab houses and auto-industry containers. And London-based RoboFold has developed a process which uses CAD data to fold complex sheet metal structures from a single piece – based on Japanese origami paper-folding principles.

Experience the fascination of lightweight construction first-hand at the Lightweight Construction Solutions Area at HANNOVER MESSE – from innovative exhibits and live demonstrations to the latest project studies.