Lightweighting is the future of automotive manufacturing, and currently, there are a few ways to achieve this. In this blog, we break down the most popular options currently in market for lightweighting cars, including carbon fiber, magnesium, aluminum, titanium and fiberglass. Learn even more in this infographic comparing these materials.
We’re big fans of using all types of composites but carbon fiber, in particular, for lightweighting automotive parts. Here are just a few reasons why we love it so much:
- It is extremely lightweight
- It is incredibly durable, thus reducing susceptibility to fatigue failures
- It presents many options for vibration control.
In fact, replacing your traditionally steel parts with carbon fiber can reduce that part’s weight by more than 60% without compromising passenger safety or the integrity of the part.
While magnesium is the fourth most common element on earth, it’s not as easy as simply mining it in order to create materials for automotive manufacturing. Currently, magnesium needs to be combined with other elements, like dysprosium or ytterbium, to provide the strength to be used in car parts. Because of this, the cost of magnesium can be volatile and extremely high. Additionally, magnesium materials can be difficult to join with other materials, as well as difficult to repair and recycle, making it more difficult to work with and replace damaged or broken parts. Currently, researchers are looking for a way to make magnesium more accessible to automobile manufacturers, as it can result in 75% weight savings versus the same parts made from steel. However, because of the difficulties it presents, only 1% of the average vehicle weight is attributed to magnesium.
Aluminum / AI Composites
While aluminum itself is lighter weight than its steel counterparts, steel can have up to four times aluminum’s tensile strength. This means you’ll have to thicken the aluminum to get the same strength in your part. This can still result in reduced weight, but the extra aluminum needed will often be felt in the cost for the material.
Manufacturers also face difficulties with aluminum post-production. It is much harder to recycle than steel, as it must be separated into different grades before melting, meaning repairing and replacing damaged parts can be a complex and costly process. Additionally, the industry has seen issues with corrosion, especially when combining aluminum with other materials. While manufacturers, like Tesla, are using aluminum in hoods, panels and powertrain components, they are doing so at a cost, which is passed on to the consumer.
Even though titanium is one of the most abundant metals on Earth, mining it is extremely complex, making the material itself expensive. While titanium is significantly stronger than steel, this strength makes it hard to weld and machine, so creating titanium parts can be time-consuming and repairing broken parts even more difficult. Additionally, because of its strength, titanium splinters more than other metals, making it less safe in the case of a collision. On the plus side, titanium is more resistant to corrosion than other metals, making it a good option for material in valves, valve springs and retainers in combustion engines.
Gaining popularity over the recent years, fiberglass is now used to manufacture car parts such as bumpers, hoods, doors and brake pads. Because of its lightweight nature, fiberglass is especially popular in manufacturing sports cars. In fact, manufacturing parts from fiberglass instead of steel can result in a 60% reduction in weight. Another benefit of fiberglass is that it is will not corrode, giving it a significant advantage over metals. While fiberglass itself is not too expensive, the manual time and labor required to apply the layers of fiberglass can make this product expensive relative to basic stamped steel components. However, like carbon fiber composites, there are relatively simple ways to include performance adders like vibration canceling to molded fiberglass parts.