Updated: Jun 29
Understanding how companies can use lightweight materials for higher market share and profits.
When (Andy Neir) Matt Damon had to get rid of nearly 500+ kilograms of his spacecraft weight in The Martian, people realized how crucial it had become to shake the weight off while engaging in innovative engineering. With advancements in technology, using lightweight materials in manufacturing have emerged as future goals and the means to a sustainable future.
Light-weighting has been employed with a certain urgency and to good efficiency in the mechanical sector. The likes of aeronautics and automotive industries, have time and again proved testimonials for the benefits of light-weighting. The reduction in mass has in these industries churned out an impressive amount of fuel efficiency numbers. Particularly, the commuting and transportation sector thrives significantly on the production of parts using lightweight materials. It has been estimated that on average, a 10 percent decrease introduced in an automobile's weight can offer up to a 3 percent of boost in its fuel efficiency.
We have witnessed an invention as great as Johannes Gutenberg’s Printing Press finding its way to our households in the form of our EPSON or Canon printers, to site a few among the plethora out in the market. Arguably, what’s facilitated their use has been the convenience they have on offer. Their compact and fitting shape, the manufacturing material especially making it a whole lot lighter.
Empirical calculations have shown that for every 1kg of weight loss by an airplane in terms of its body weight, it has the potential to save as much as 106 kg of fuel. The automotive industry has also evolved in the lightweight engineering department by a great margin. In 2018, Volkswagen had built the special lightweight mountain climbing race car, the ID R, using a Carbon fiber Kevlar composite. The ID R’s lightweight leading to well-planned aerodynamics facilitated its record-breaking debut at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, completing the climb in an unbelievable record-breaking time.
The fact that the use of lightweight materials in manufacturing enables greater mobility, maneuvering in cars is well known but there are stats that say it also accounts for reduced amounts of wear and tear which is a big bonus. Similar plus points resulted in wind turbine manufacturers also venturing into lightweight engineering. Carbon and glass fiber allow for longer blade length ensuring greater speeds. A 20-30% mass reduction is predicted to help in churning put almost three times the power.
Munich-based startup Lilium Aviation meanwhile is looking to amalgamate the future demands of electric vehicles and lightweight materials to achieve a different milestone altogether. In Germany, they are ideating to engineer an all-electric air taxi, which if manufactured in the near future would be a remarkable achievement. Compact aerial designs as such would greatly benefit from using Magnesium which has appreciable capacity to light weight products.
Sports has also witnessed an influx of lightweight substances being used on a massive scale. A decade ago or so, the streets were filled with bicycles of all kinds and with them their separate struggles. But, it didn’t take long for the trends to change for the uncool kids to show off their Carbon-fibre and Magnesium alloy bicycles and rule the block. The extreme appeal of the Carbon-fibre and Magnesium alloy materials is one thing, but the serious performance development that the lightweight frames introduce to bicycles is exceptional.
The mantle is now shifting from materials like Aluminum frame to Magnesium ones as the industry is realizing the lightweight capacities of Magnesium and its alloys, which is inching towards substituting steel also in many cases.
Additionally, equipment of security in sports also see an application of lightweight materials in for example, helmets and the paddings. The wired frame that adds additional guard in sports like Hockey and Cricket shouldn’t make the object any more heavy. Application of Magnesium alloys with decent ductility helps in such cases and makes it of ideal use for the players.
In the United States and India respectively, Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and BS-VI standards place the manufacturers under the clause to better the fuel efficiency numbers for passenger cars and light trucks annually. This also propels the agenda of light weighting.
The key issue to address here is that light weighting shouldn’t be confused ever with miserly use of raw materials in manufacturing. Sustainability sounds music to most ears, but light weighting if done with adequate knowledge can also help you replace heavier low cost materials for what the market presents as rather appealing and exquisite.
The automotive industry, though admits, with the safety norms getting stricter every few years and the constant need to match up to those, gives only so much freedom when using lightweight materials. A material too light in nature might not provide sufficient damping capacity, that is to say, the ability to sustain vibrations (sometimes drastic) can even result in a breakage.
It is indeed the customer though that one aims to cater and many sales surveys convey the fact that substituting sturdy and flashy metals or alloys such as steel, with newer alternatives like Aluminum or sometimes just plastic, might also make “light” sound synonymous to “cheap”.
Light weighting isn’t really all that smooth after all. To a layman, these substitute materials might appear as mimics of those otherwise heavy weighing objects but the processes differ behind the scenes. A sheet metal is painted differently than a carbon fibre since the latter has an uneven surface owing to its porous structure.
In the many cases mentioned above, we have seen substituting as the most common means to light weighting. Aluminum is the most abundant metal on Earth and just one-third the weight of steel. But the newest entrant as a substitute has been Magnesium. Well known for maintaining its structural integrity, it is not only a relatively lightweight material, but also impact and dent resistant due to its higher damping coefficient giving it high vibration tolerance. It has especially come in handy where portability needs to be prioritized. Examples are chainsaws, pneumatic nailers, luggage, laptops, transfer cases, steering column components, pedal brackets, instrument panel supports etc.
The newly trending alternatives are plastics and fibres, most heard being the Carbon fibre and Kevlar (remember the Volkswagen ID-R mentioned above). Carbon fibre and Kevlar have been preferred over other options due to their slightly higher strength-to-weight ratio. Light weighting is a more strategic process than it might appear at first. The body of most such objects has to be as rigid and sturdy as possible and therefore there are great restrictions at play when cutting out the metal percentage in use.
3D Printing has proved nothing short of revolutionary in this sense as masses of smaller stock size elements can now be reduced to a great extent. The process at work has been termed hollowing, which uses less material than casting or machining. The hollowed honeycomb structure proves of great utility.
The most common and feasible thought has been the use of plastic wherever structurally permissible in exchange for metal which obviously results in lighter weight. This is usually employed within sub-assemblies. Magnesium particularly proves efficient in such cases with thin-wall casting involved, which can replace machining or stamping, while maintaining lighter parts and structural integrity.
If you or your company are looking to kickstart the light weighting route for your products, a quick and affordable way to start would be through effective material selection and related innovations. There are now softwares and features by Solidworks and Altair which specialise in helping companies do topology optimization more effectively for their existing designs.
Want to learn more about how Magnesium Alloys or Carbon Fibre can help with lightweighting for your product or application? Talk to Experts of Request a quote from Exclusive Magnesium Pvt. Ltd. today.