Lightening the Load: Balancing Weight Reduction with Structural Durability
Lightweighting in the mobility sector is driven by the demand for environmentally conscious, cost-effective and increasingly high-performing products. The lighter a vehicle is the less energy it requires to get from point A to point B. Not only can lightweighting save the consumer money by reducing energy usage, but it can also help to reduce a vehicle’s carbon emissions and, consequently, its environmental impact.
For petrochemical vehicles, lightweighting of the body means better fuel efficiency. Either the engine will have an increased range due to the reduced weight or a smaller engine can be installed which decreases weight even further. Lightweighting is even more integral for the electric and hybrid vehicle market. Battery modules must have the energy density to provide an adequate range, especially whilst charging infrastructure is maturing.
Currently, the size and weight of the battery module in electric vehicles is relatively high in comparison to combustion engines. Combustion engines have had over a century to become as lightweight as possible whilst electric vehicles are still a new phenomenon. A frame and reinforced suspension are placed alongside the heavy battery module to support the extra weight and provide protection for the battery itself, which in turn increases an EV’s weight.
The electrification of vehicles means revising the structural formulation of its body in white (BIW) and powertrain to account for the added weight. This makes the adoption of effective weight-saving techniques invaluable. Adhesives may hold the key to weight reduction when it comes to BIW as even the smallest of weight reductions means improved handling, increased range and better energy consumption of the vehicle. Foams are also very useful when it comes to reducing the weight of components such as the protective casing for battery modules. Foams are able to absorb shock effectively whilst also being lighter than a denser material, such as a commodity plastic or metal.
The potential for weight saving presents a profitable opportunity for the foam and adhesives supply chains. What must be kept in mind, however, is the trade-off of material properties when designing a new product. In reducing the weight of a material, the tendency is for the product to lose its structural integrity. Thinner adhesive coatings or lower-density foams are less durable than their thicker, heavier counterparts. Close attention and testing must therefore be carried out on research and development projects to ensure they are able to withstand the stringent safety testing of the automotive industry.