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CHALLENGE  #4 / automotive

Lightweighting of metal components in European mobility sector

Problem description

More and more companies [1] from automotive industry are incorporating components aimed at mass reduction, reducing assembly costs and optimising recycling.If Slovenian and Italian companies want to stay competitive in the market and follow the sustainable manufacturing initiatives, they should start working on reducing the mass of their final products and components used in production processes without compromising on the quality of the component.  Another trend in manufacturing, that is not mainly backed up by government initiatives to reduce emissions of CO2, is the growing granularity of customer demand, which is putting a strain on manufacturers’ existing infrastructure. [2]

Ideal scenario

Current geo-political situation result in an increase in metal prices, which are following the skyrocketing energy prices. An ideal scenario would be to produce lighter objects, while keeping or even improving their characteristics, canceling out the price increase along the fragile supply chain.

Production of lighter components should not have a negative affect on the production process. On the contrary, it should require less energy and time to manufacture them.

To properly answer the problem, manufacturers shall radically step-up both in the product and the process design.

Describe the problem context.

Europe produces half as much aluminum as it needs, therefore European producers of aluminum products were buying about a third of their aluminum in Russia; the third largest producer in the world. Right now, they are cut off due to the current political situation and the prices skyrocketed. For example, before the epidemic, the price of aluminum reached 1.800 $ per ton, this year at the beginning of March it exceeded the limit of 4.000 $ per ton. [5]

  The use of performance materials such as high-strength steel and aluminium is on the rise and heavier traditional materials, such as steel and iron, are being replaced whenever possible. [3]

44.3% of costs in the manufacturing sector are material costs. This means that a 10% lighter design reduces the manufacturing cost on average by more than 4%.Not only material costs, with the right approach to lightweighting we can lower assembly costs, tooling costs, production and inventory costs, which makes us competitive and more sustainable in the worldwide market.

Mention who is directly or indirectly affected by the problem.

Directly affected are manufacturers who use or manufacture metal components, because they don’t keep up with advances in technology and miss out on potential profit and gained competitive edge by delivering significant ergonomic, sustainability, and performance advantages. Indirectly affected are the customers and end consumers, who are buying components and final products containing these component (e.g. a car). In a case of a car, there are a lot of moving parts, which makes lighter parts especially valuable; a 10% weight reduction can result in a 6-8% boost in fuel efficiency. At best, lightweighting could potentially reduce vehicle mass by half and boost fuel efficiency by 35%. [4]

Explain the problem's current or potential structural, economic, social/societal, and environmental implications. Mention its current/potential financial costs.

Lightweighting is a perfect combination of three dimensions of sustainability – economic, environmental and social. Sustainable and lower-cost manufacturing is an excellent fit with a responsible approach to resources, energy and the climate, as well as with high functionality.

 

Products made with less material usually have less environmental impact for several reasons. Less material is extracted, thereby saving finite natural resources, and less is sent to recycling or landfill. You also save the embodied energy that’s required to mine and process material, and you eliminate material waste upstream. For example, you’ve got to dig up and dispose of about seven pounds of material to make one pound of virgin steel. And it’s 85 to one for aluminum. If we look at the energy that it takes to make the material – making one pound of virgin aluminum uses about 130 MJ of energy. Lightweight products and vehicles also often consume less energy when in use, since it requires less power to move them. This energy use is often their biggest source of environmental impact.

Bibliography

D. R. Heuss, D. N. Muller, W. van Sintern, D. A. Starke and A. Tschiesner, “Lightweight, heavy impact,” McKinsey & Company, Advanced Industries, 2012.

J. Stoller, “Batch of one: flexible manufacturing requires new automation,” 02 04 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.automationmag.com/batch-of-one-flexible-manufacturing-requires-new-automation/.

L. Wood, “Global Automotive Material Trends Market and Trend Analysis to 2036,” 22 06 2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20220622005565/en/Global-Automotive-Material-Trends-Market-and-Trend-Analysis-to-2036—by-Technology-Key-Companies-and-Forecasts—ResearchAndMarkets.com.

J. Hitch, “The Road to Lightweighting: The Tech & Materials Leading the Way,” 10 December 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.industryweek.com/technology-and-iiot/article/22026807/the-road-to-lightweighting-the-tech-materials-leading-the-way.

N. Koražija, “Iz Kitajske v Evropo prihajajo zaloge aluminija. Lahko ublažijo divjanje cen?,” 09 03 2022. [Online]. Available: https://tl.finance.si/8987984/Iz-Kitajske-v-Evropo-prihajajo-zaloge-aluminija-Lahko-ublazijo-divjanje-cen.

K. Sertoglu, “Fraunhofer IAPT Slashes Car Part Costs by 80% using 3D Printing Technology,” 24 01 2022. [Online]. Available: https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/fraunhofer-iapt-slashes-car-part-costs-by-80-using-3d-printing-technology-202776/.

nTopology, “8 Benefits of Lightweighting in Manufacturing & Engineering,” 27 01 2022. [Online]. Available: https://ntopology.com/blog/8-lightweighting-benefits-in-manufacturing-engineering/.

Mike, “How is 3D printing cost effective?,” 15 01 2021. [Online]. Available: https://3dprintedparts.com/2021/01/15/how-is-3d-printing-cost-effective/.

Alumeco Group, “Analysis: What to expect from the metal markets in 2022,” 2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.alumeco.com/knowledge-technique/metal-price-news-2022/analysis-what-to-expect-from-the-metal-markets-in-2022/.

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