When it comes to mega trends driving today's global auto industry, the advancements and materials that are helping manufacturers lightweight vehicles to meet stringent emissions standards are at the forefront.
Considering 75 percent of fuel consumption is related to vehicle weight, the appetite for replacing metal with composite plastic, foam and natural fiber components is projected to grow in the next decade. A study performed by the Center for Automotive Research found the use of lightweight, composite materials will increase significantly if automakers want to achieve an overall weight reduction of 10 and 15 percent. The center has also projected about 25 pounds more plastic and composite materials will be used for vehicles by 2020, replacing mild strength steels. This demand is coupled with increased opportunities to lightweight vehicles through material and manufacturing advancements.
Through advanced chemistry and research, BASF has been leading automotive lightweighting trends by developing solutions and methods of material replacement that enable dramatic weight savings for OEMs.
As lightweighting is applied to every vehicle being launched across the globe, plastics are playing even more of a critical role in the vehicle manufacturing process than ever before.
And there's a good reason why.
Composites have a strong track record of high performance, achieving the same desired effect as aluminum and steel in terms of durability and safety, while also reducing weight. These applications have often contributed to more than 20 percent mass savings.
With a full portfolio of plastic composite solutions, BASF has placed a strong focus on innovation and close customer cooperation with customizable solutions that will cut weight and can be adapted to specific requirements.
Performance mineral extenders from BASF Kaolin's Translink® product line help compounders and automakers improve the mechanical properties in components such as hubcaps, mirror housing and headlamp housing. In addition to improving the polymer processing, these high brightness surface treated kaolin improve both impact strength and stiffness of these plastic parts.
"At BASF, we're material specialists, and our job is to put our material, design and technical expertise to work for our customers," said Mark Szendro, transportation marketing director for BASF's Performance Materials Division. "And we've found that when we're part of the decision making process, we're consistently able to lower the weight, reduce the number of parts and optimize strength - delivering the lightweight, structurally sound systems to meet automaker targets."
This is in part due to BASF's proprietary prediction technology, ULTRASIM®, which helps automakers design and develop lightweight performance parts by eliminating 'do overs.' This analysis software is used at each phase of the component's development for design optimization and to monitor virtually against potential part failure. Offering 95 percent accuracy in terms of expected performance of a material, ULTRASIM saves automakers time and money when developing plastic parts.
Below are a few examples of how BASF’s lightweight automotive materials have contributed to success stories in the automotive industry:
"With the help of our materials, customers can engineer lightweight solutions that effectively replace once-established metal structures and components, opening up a wide realm of possibilities in the automotive market," said Jeffrey Hagar, market segment manager for automotive interiors for BASF's Performance Materials Division. "Combined with ULTRASIM, BASF gives customers confidence in expected material behavior before prototype investments are made, as it accurately tests potential points of failure and optimized material use."
Lightweight, high-strength and resistant to excessive heat, foam systems have proven to be an excellent method to reduce emissions and meet global fuel economy standards.
"The inclusion of foam systems as part of an OEM's lightweighting strategy continues to gain traction because the material is low weight but offers significant strength and stability," said Brian Shaner, market segment manager for automotive BIW, chassis and exterior for BASF's Performance Materials Division. "At BASF, we're focused on innovating in this space, bringing lightweight foams with added benefits such as fire resistance, sound absorption properties and best-in-class efficiency when it comes to cycle times and material usage to market."
One of the key benefits of using foam is that it offers near limitless shape and size properties.
One of the key benefits of using foam is that it offers near limitless shape and size properties. For example, Elastoflex®, one of BASF's foam solutions, can be injected into the vehicles body in white structure during the manufacturing process. It quickly expands to fill cavities and sills, offering increased strength while dampening noise in the cabin.
Other examples demonstrating the benefits of BASF's foam systems include:
While not as widely discussed as other materials, the use of natural fibers is a trend that offers both sustainability and weight saving advantages to the automotive industry, potentially leading to major impacts on how automakers reduce vehicle weight.
BASF developed an innovative zero-emission thermoset technology, Acrodur, which is a water-based, formaldehyde-free, cross-linking resin that creates only one byproduct during the curing process - water. This technology is perfectly suited for molded parts made from a variety of fibers including glass, polyurethane, polyamide and even natural fibers.
Some of the applications Acrodur has been used for include the following:
"Lightweighting is altering the way we think about the types of materials that can be used for vehicle construction," says Henning Karbstein, manager of new business development and idea management at BASF. "And with BASF's expertise and dedication to innovation, a myriad of solutions are being created for components that are stable, lightweight and heat resistant. So as the automotive industry continues to contend with fuel consumption and emissions reduction challenges, BASF will be there with inventive answers to meet the demand."