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Article - Key Enabling Technologies

Lightweighting

Introduction

Lightweighting – obviously – means less mass. But it means more than that, because many lightweighting products also offer better material characteristics than conventional products. By delivering well-thought-out functional integration, by using designs that are optimised in terms of load-bearing and materials, and by deploying lighter materials, lightweighting combines modern production processes and lower costs with a sparing use of resources and enhanced functionality.

Lightweighting is a key enabling technology, because the principles of lightweighting are driving advances in technology. Weight is saved not only through the use of lighter materials, but also via the integration of functions and the use of designs that are optimised in terms of load-bearing and  materials. Since the materials and the design, the bonding techniques and the manufacturing processes are being continuously improved, the technology delivers goods with equivalent or even enhanced characteristics compared with the original product. New forward-looking markets are emerging as lightweighting combines with digitalisation and bionics.

Lightweighting is already in use in many areas today. The innovations are being driven by aerospace and the automotive and transport sectors. Each kilogram saved means an extra kilogram of payload. 100 kilograms less of weight cuts a car’s fuel consumption by around 0.5 litres per 100 kilometres, and for electric vehicles, every kilogram saved increases the range of the vehicle. In an Airbus A 320, 100 kilograms less weight means almost 10,000 litres less kerosene per aircraft and year. But the technology is also taking on an ever more important role in the construction sector, leisure and sports, the maritime industry, and medical engineering.

What is lightweighting? Enlarge

What is lightweighting?

© Lightweighting Initiative

Lightweighting cuts costs and saves resources

Producing lightweight products means using less material, and less material can mean lower costs and better properties. Using lightweight components is less energy-intensive, and leads to lower CO2 emissions. New production techniques can save further resources and energy. The various materials and lightweighting technologies can be combined in many different ways.

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

Facts and figures about lightweighting

44.3
Symbolicon für Münzen

per cent
of costs in the manufacturing sector are down to materials

10,000
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litres
of kerosene are saved by an A 320 in a year if the aircraft weights 100 kg less

1,031
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lightweighting projects
are listed in the Federal Government’s funding catalogue

22
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per cent
of SMEs use lightweight materials

The future of lightweighting

New challenges facing lightweighting

Lightweighting involves a whole new level of complexity as the entire value chain needs to be organised and controlled across the whole lifecycle of a product. The fundamental changes associated with this mean that workflows and the way our work is organised are being radically transformed.

Lightweighting is a revolution that starts not with the manufacturing of a product on the shop floor but during the development stages. In general it can be said that all competitive products, irrespective of the sector in which they are being developed, will be based to some extent on lightweight structures, even if they are not explicitly “labelled”. At the same time, the revolution in manufacturing processes is one of the biggest challenges relating to this development.

New materials take time to test and almost always require new manufacturing processes. It is important for these processes to be standardised and mass production to become possible. Car-makers in particular demand high throughput rates in series production. Possible extra costs in product manufacturing must result in significant savings once the product is in use. That is the only way to justify the higher purchase price to the final consumer.

Sustainability via a circular economy

The greater the number of different materials which are joined together to make a product, the more challenging is the recovery of the recyclable materials for the manufacturing process. All of the processes from design and manufacture to use and re-use must be thought through at the initial drafting stage or the time when the product is redesigned. The aim has to be a circular economy approach which returns the valuable or even rare materials to the production process. There is a need for more research and development work in this field.

The manufacture, processing and maintenance or repair of products from new materials is challenging and demands sophisticated expertise which can only be acquired via specially designed training courses. For this reason, the teaching and handling of lightweighting methods and materials must become much more integrated into general education, vocational training and degree courses.

Despite these challenges, it is important to make the best possible use of the potential of lightweighting for the German economy. To this end, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has launched a number of measures.

Woman in front of a monitor; Quelle: Getty Images/Bloomberg

© Getty Images/Bloomberg

Industrie 4.0

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The Lightweighting Initiative

Helping companies to implement lightweighting

The Economic Affairs Ministry supports a cross-technology and efficient transfer of expertise between the various lightweighting stakeholders around Germany. The Lightweighting Initiative serves as a central contact point for German businesses. The services are rounded off by targeted funding measures and the Lightweighting Forum.

Lightweighting is of crucial importance for the competitiveness of many sectors and the thorough modernisation of the industrial sector in Germany. For this reason, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is continuing to expand the support available for this forward looking technology. The Lightweighting Initiative Coordination Office and the Lightweighting Forum offer expert contacts for businesses and a platform for cross-technology and cross-sectoral networking.

The contact point for businesses: the Lightweighting Initiative Coordination Office

The Lightweighting Initiative Coordination Office (Organisational Chart (PDF, 85KB)) is a national and international network hub for German companies, and especially SMEs, supporting the implementation of lightweighting and fostering the cross-sectoral transfer of technology – with activities ranging from backing for initiatives to a more widespread industrial roll-out of lightweighting and its use in mass production.

The Lightweighting Initiative Coordination Office is a central contact point for interested stakeholders from business, science and government. It coordinates the approach to digital structural change in industry in terms of lightweighting in Germany. It provides practical recommendations and examples of best practice for companies and policymakers, as well as customised support, thus giving a decisive boost to the sector and activating suitable multipliers to get the message out. Cooperation between experts at national and international level is helping to enhance Germany’s reputation as a lightweighting centre.

A platform for transferring expertise: the Lightweighting Forum

The Economic Affairs Ministry regularly hosts a Round Table together with the GTAI (Germany Trade and Invest)(in German). This Lightweighting Forum is a platform for a cross-technology and efficient transfer of expertise between the various stakeholders around Germany. The Forum focuses on technology trends, the activities of the Federal Government and the German Länder, and the opportunities and risks associated with foreign markets. The fifth session of the Forum was held on 1 March 2018. Further information can be obtained from: leichtbau@bmwi.bund.de.

Invitation to bid for funding

The funding measure entitled “r+Impuls – Innovative Technologien für Ressourceneffizienz – Impulse für industrielle Ressourceneffizienz”, which is part of FONA, the Research for Sustainable Development Programme, is operated by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with a view to overcoming impediments to the development and dissemination of industrial efficiency technologies by providing a targeted R&D stimulus. At the same time, the funding measure is helping to give Germany a green economy. The deadline for bids is 17 July 2018. Further information about the invitation to bid can be found here (in German).

Pipette and test tubes on innovation policy; Source: Getty Images/Andrew Brookes

© Getty Images/Andrew Brookes

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Leichtbauatlas

Lightweighting skills in Germany at a glance

Germany is well positioned on lightweighting. Just how well can be seen from the interactive lightweighting map (the “LEICHTBAUATLAS”): it networks the individual stakeholders in research, development and applications and thus fosters the transfer of technology – across Germany and on a technology-neutral and cross-sectoral basis.

The LEICHTBAUATLAS (in German) uses an interactive website to make Germany visible as a lightweighting centre and offers businesses and scientists the possibility to network. A catalogue comprising around 250 criteria has been elaborated in close cooperation with all the key stakeholders helping people to find the right supplier or partner. A text search function and a geographical locator are also available.

The interactive website, which can be used free of charge, makes it easy to find lightweighting expertise in Germany and is open to organisations which have focused their processes and activities on lightweighting and which wish to present them to a wide audience. The LEICHTBAUATLAS takes a cross-material, cross-technology and cross-sectoral approach, and a comprehensive criteria filter permits targeted searches for suppliers or partners. Registered organisations can set up and publish their own profiles.

Lightweighting technologies

An overview of lightweighting

Various lightweighting technologies exist, and many can be combined with one another. By integrating different functions, by permitting designs which offer the right loads and materials, and by using lighter materials, lightweight construction can offer low-cost and flexible alternatives in many different fields.

Producing lightweight structures means using less material, and less material can mean lower costs and better properties. Lightweight materials, lightweight forms and function-integrating lightweighting complement one another to ensure that optimal use is made of raw materials, costs and energy.

Lightweight materials

Here, heavy, dense materials are replaced by lighter materials, e.g. lightweight metals (aluminium, titanium, magnesium) or composites (carbon-fibre composites (CFCs), fibreglass reinforced plastics (FRPs)). Lightweight materials are particularly efficient when, depending on the load and the function, different materials are combined. This is called hybrid or multimaterial lightweighting.

Lightweight forms

Lightweight forms are complex structures which are achieved by optimising the spatial structure (topology) of reinforcements or struts. In many cases, these are based on principles of design taken from nature and called “bionic”. Examples include the hexagonal honeycomb shape or the load-optimised structure of bones. It is often very difficult to reproduce such shapes using traditional methods like casting or milling. Modern, additive manufacturing processes like 3D printing offer the potential for entirely new shapes and designs for lighter and more efficient products.

Integrated function lightweighting

Further functions can be built into load-bearing structures. These functions then do not need to be delivered elsewhere. For example, additive processes make it possible to generate refrigerating structures in components rather than adding them onto the outside. Functional integration in lightweighting also occurs when materials that conduct electricity, such as copper or aluminium, are integrated into composites, saving the need for additional wiring. Functional integration reduces spending on materials and assembly.

Further information

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