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DFE World: Design & the Global Environment
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Light Weight Materials


Light Weight Materials - Weight Reduction

It is intuitive that the less something weighs, the less energy it takes to move.  With 75% of vehicle gas (energy) consumption directly related to factors associated with vehicle weight, the potential benefits of weight reduction enable smaller powerplant (engine, turbine, fuel cells, etc.) and energy storage (battery, flywheel, etc.) systems, with corresponding cost and/or performance benefits.


The weight of a vehicle can be substantially reduced by replacing some of its parts originally manufactured in metal (typically steel) by others manufactured out of composite materials and plastics or lighter weight metals such as aluminum, magnesium, and titanium.  Making a car one pound lighter actually makes it about a pound and a half lighter, because it needs lighter structure and suspension to support that weight, a smaller engine to move it, smaller brakes to stop it, and less fuel to run the engine.  By using lightweight materials, manufacturers can build more fuel efficient vehicles, however, the safety and crashworthiness of a lighter weight vehicle remains a significant consideration.


Composite materials in a vehicle refer to materials made of reinforced fibers, which are added to a material known as the “matrix” which has a much lower mechanical strength.  Major parts made with composite materials that are appearing in the market include:


·         In bodywork: tailgates, floors, roofs, doors and bumpers

·         Interior parts: seat castings, dashboards, pillar coverings, and door trim

·         Structural parts: side and cross members


In addition to the development of completely new materials for a given application, the industry trends reveal continual gradual improvement in the properties of the materials that have been traditionally used.  This is evident by the continued development of new steel alloys for vehicle shells.  New high strength low alloy steels offer considerable weight savings over traditional alloys.


Development of Materials Used in the Construction of a Mid-Sized Car