Engineers at The University of Nottingham are developing lightweight automotive components using new additive manufacturing processes to boost vehicle fuel efficiency, while cutting noise and CO2 emissions as part of the Functional Lattices for Automotive Components (FLAC) project. FLAC aims to achieve significant weight reductions in mass (40-80%) and optimized thermo-mechanical performance in new vehicle components.
The Nottingham team will construct components using selective laser melting (SLM). SLM uses a 3-Dimensional Computer Aided Design (CAD) model to digitally reproduce the object in a number of layers. Each layer is sequentially recreated by melting sections of a bed of aluminium alloy powder using a laser beam. Layer by layer, the melted particles fuse and solidify to form novel structures that can be made up from complex lattices to provide a light-weight component. SLM helps increase functionality and lower the number of separate components in production. This significant mass saving cuts component costs and increases overall vehicle efficiency.
The use of advanced lightweight materials in the project will serve to minimize wastage. Only the required material is incorporated into the built component, reducing costs, increasing the ability to manipulate the material to achieve the required performance and efficiency.
Environmental advantages include the inherent recyclability of the aluminium powder waste, reduced transportation and the elimination of special tooling and hazardous cutting fluids to produce the SLM parts.
The three-year, £1,731,610 (US$2.14-million) FLAC project also will demonstrate the viability and cost analysis of the industrialization of SLM, along with possible manufacturing routes and supply chain models. Nottingham’s share of the funding is £368,286 (US$456,000).
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.—FLAC project lead, Professor Chris Tuck
The FLAC project, which has secured funding from Innovate UK, will investigate components such as brake calipers, heat sinks for LED headlights and power train sub-systems. The project is led by HiETA Technologies, and also includes Alcon Components, University of Liverpool, Added Scientific Limited, Reinshaw plc and Moog Controls Limited as partners, along with the University of Nottingham.
HiETA Technologies specializes in thermal management and light-weighting, exploiting additive manufacturing (AM) as a production and customization process.
The short-term market opportunity for these components—which will also deliver a decrease in CO2 emissions by 16.97 g/km—lies in the luxury car and motorsport markets.