Better fuel-efficient cars are a critical component in the fight for cleaner air, lower fossil fuel consumption, and the slowing of climate change – with the added benefit of drivers needing to spend less money on gas. There’s a lot that goes into the design of fuel-efficient cars, but one major component of fuel-efficient design is weight reduction. It’s a relatively simple and obvious solution – the lighter a vehicle is, the less fuel it takes to propel – but actually engineering lightweight and safe cars isn’t so simple.
One of the best – if not the best – prospects for making lightweight, fuel-efficient, safe and affordable cars lies in additive manufacturing, and engineers at the University of Nottingham are hard at work developing new additive manufacturing processes to not only make cars more fuel efficient, but reduce both noise and CO2 emissions. The university’s Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Research Group has been working to leverage the technology for the automotive and aerospace industries for ten years now, according to Professor Christopher Tuck, Director of the EPSRC Centre of Doctoral Training in Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing.
“Our work in this area began in earnest on the Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK) ATKINS project, which began in 2007,” Tuck tells 3DPrint.com. “This was our first major project involving lightweight lattice structures in Ti6Al4V made on our MTT250 selective laser melting (SLM) system. In it, we demonstrated the huge potential for lattice and optimised structures to reduce vehicle weight, whilst also developing our AM design capability.”
In 2013, the Centre was a principal partner in the ALSAM (Aluminum Lattice Structures via Additive Manufacturing) project, which involved working with automotive OEMs to further develop the technology with a focus on the creation of latticed components made from aluminum alloys. Working with project partner Renishaw and their AM250 metal additive manufacturing machine, the group was able to redesign an engine component, part of a fuel pump assembly, to reduce the component’s weight by 80%.
Last year, both the EPSRC and Renishaw joined up with several other organizations for a large collaborative project called Functional Lattices for Automotive Components (FLAC), which is scheduled to run until 2019.
“FLAC proposes a new class of advanced components capable of delivering weight reduction and increased thermal performance,” Tuck tells us. “We will make these components using new alloys never before successfully processed by SLM, and we will utilise in-house lattice software, called FLatt Pack, being developed in our research group.”
FLAC is aiming to reduce the mass of new vehicle components by 40 to 80 percent, as well as demonstrating the viability and cost analysis of industrialized SLM over the course of the three-year project. Not only will the project benefit the environment through better fuel efficiency, but it will also minimize waste and cost, thanks to the recyclability of the aluminum powder and the elimination of special tooling and dangerous cutting fluids required in conventional manufacturing techniques.
Components the project will investigate include brake calipers, heat sinks for LED headlights, and power train subsystems. In the short term, market opportunities for these components, which should deliver a decrease in CO2 emissions by 16.97g/km, are in the luxury car and motorsport markets.
“FLAC will benefit UK automotive companies, increasing their competitiveness by allowing them to adopt innovative routes for the design and manufacture of lightweight on-vehicle componentry, with shorter lead times and lower costs than are presently available,” says Tuck. “The automotive sector is one of the UK’s leading export sectors by value, representing around 6.3 per cent of all UK exports. Successful delivery of FLAC’s portfolio will enhance the R&D leadership in the key automotive technologies, and strengthen the UK automotive supply chain, resulting in increased revenues to the UK economy and government.”
The project, which has received £1.7 million from Innovate UK, also includes participating organizations HiETA Technologies, Moog Controls, Bentley Motors, Alcon Components, Added Scientific and the University of Liverpool. Discuss in the FLAC forum at 3DPB.com.
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