UK automotive specialists focus on weight reduction

Bentley has set the challenge of replacing a structural door-inner sub-assembly with a simplified carbon composite assembly.
Bentley has set the challenge of replacing a structural door-inner sub-assembly with a simplified carbon composite assembly.

Three UK-based automotive OEMs – Bentley Motors Limited, Emerald Automotive LLC and Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK) Ltd – are working closely with the Lightweighting Excellence Programme (LX) in order to achieve vehicle weight reduction.

The LX Programme is a strategic co-operation led by Sigmatex and supported by Axillium Research, in partnership with Caparo Advanced Composites, Cranfield University, Engenuity, Expert Tooling & Automation, Granta Design, Group Rhodes, LMAT, Surface Generation and Tilsatec. The LX consortium aims to make it easier to manufacture affordable composite components in medium to high volumes by reinforcing the connections between material supply, design and manufacturing.

Lightweighting Excellence Programme was officially launched at the Advanced Engineering UK 2015, using funds of £7.15 million from the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative (AMSCI) program and industry. AMSCI was set up by the UK Government to help existing UK supply chains grow and achieve world-class standards while encouraging major new suppliers to set up manufacturing in the UK.

Structural integrity

OEMs are now working on weight reduction to ensure compliance with stricter emissions standards. However, as the amount of technology demanded in today’s passenger vehicles increases, so does the overall weight. Composite materials allow OEMs to counteract this effect through lightweighting and part consolidation, while maintaining structural integrity.

Many UK-based automotive OEMs have expressed interest to source a higher percentage of their composite components from within the UK. The LX Programme addresses these desires by consolidating all elements of the supply chain to produce demonstrator components to showcase UK capability.

The three OEMs are working together with Sigmatex and ten partners on the following cases:

Bentley Motors:  Bentley has set the challenge of replacing a structural door-inner sub-assembly, currently made of numerous metallic parts, with a simplified carbon composite assembly. The door-inner assembly anchors the door’s anti-intrusion beams and mountings for numerous components such as electric window motors, window frame guides and exterior skin connection. Using composite materials, the LX consortium aims to produce a lightweight concept that reduces the number of parts used, while retaining strength, stiffness and crash integrity. This weight reduction could ultimately enable increased functionality that is sometimes prohibitive due to the weight of the existing metallic structures.

Emerald Automotive: Emerald Automotive is developing a lightweight commercial vehicle that could utilise thermoplastic exterior body panels in the future. They are expected to achieve a Class A surface finish that is lightweight, durable and dent resistant. The project outcome will allow LX consortium members to create a UK-based production facility that uses automated technology and thermoplastic composite moulding know-how to ensure an supply of Class A body panels to help Emerald Automotive meet customer demand.

Nissan: One of the most difficult candidate parts for manufacturing in carbon composites could be a structural floor component which Nissan is offering the LX program for development. The first run of prototypes will be produced in early 2016 as proof of concept, showing high volume manufacturing methodology and processes ready for future full-scale production. The key challenges for the LX partners to overcome are producing a floor that is significantly lighter than the existing metallic part, at a price that is comparable with the existing metallic component it replaces, while maintaining consistent high quality, structural performance and just-in-time delivery to the production line.

This story is reprinted from material from Sigmatex, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier.