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.