Material Selection for Innovative Design of Automotive Component
Increased interest in obtaining fuel efficiency and lower costs led researchers to look for automobiles materials that would lead to these desired goals. The current study assessed three innovative materials for an automobile chassis: magnesium, carbon fibre, fibreglass. The aims of the study are;
- Investigate three innovative materials; magnesium, fibreglass, carbon fibre, to design an automobile chassis.
- Analyze the three materials for impact on cost and environment using the lifecycle analysis model.
- Analyze the chassis’ quality and its impact on the entire automobile product using an innovative material in the design.
Various methods were used to achieve these aims, including Ashby’s selection method of mechanical material, cost analysis, and life cycle analysis for assessing environmental impact. Based on the results of these three methods, a single material is decided. The results show that carbon fibre and glass fibre are possible solutions based solely on cost analysis. However, The LCA results provided a clear picture. According to the LCA results, all materials produced a lesser negative impact on the environment than chassis built from traditional steel. However, carbon fibre produced the least harmful results depending on the environmental impact percentage on eight different variables. Therefore, carbon-fibre is recommended as a material for chassis design.
I want to thank my supervisor that this dissertation would not be possible without their constant advice and time. The support and love of my family pushed me to strive for the best in completing this dissertation. I want to thank my professors and university for providing me with the opportunity of conducting this research.
Technological advancements and increased interest in protecting the environment promote the need to advance and upgrade inventions to meet the current age challenges. Innovative car concepts are increasingly becoming needed to solve the international conflict of public and private mobility while also increasing environmental efficiency and decreasing critical carbon dioxide emissions. Customer demand for automobiles has changed to high performance, size, extra comfort that enhances the weight spiral has caused automobile companies to respond by producing electric car concepts (Davies 2012). These new electrical cars have caused a shift towards lightweight design to keep up with increased public awareness of fuel consumption and stricter legislative regulations on carbon dioxide emissions in the UK and worldwide. Experts have found that 100 kg saved on the mass of cars results in the 9 grams of reduction in CO2 per kilometre (Thiruvengadam et al. 2016). Therefore the reduction of vehicle mass is considered imperative in terms of being the most effective means of reducing CO2 emissions while maintaining performance, driving quality, and safety.
It is the selection of materials that ultimately influences an automobile’s design, resulting in its price and impact on the environment. Car companies worldwide are looking for ways to make the product more affordable while factors such as oil dependence, stricter environmental laws, and restrictions of GHG emissions are fueling the need for alternative power systems in cars. According to Ribeiro et al. (2007), global energy consumption can be reduced significantly if cars are made lighter in weight at least an average of 500 kg can be achieved. Studies have found other alternative materials that can replace steel bodies such as duralumin, fibreglass, carbon fibre, and carbon nanotubes. The chassis plays a crucial role in developing car production as it holds the importance of housing the engine and the drive train. The current study looks to analyze three such materials as potential replacements for steel in commercial vehicle chassis. Thus, the current study’s research question is as follows;
What will material for a chassis frame for an automobile be the most cost-effective and environmentally friend without compromising quality?
To achieve the answer to the research question stated above the following set of aims and objectives have been devised.
- Investigate three innovative materials; magnesium, fibreglass, carbon fibre, to design an automobile chassis.
- Analyze the three materials for impact on cost and environment using the lifecycle analysis model.
- Analyze the chassis’ quality and its impact on the entire automobile product using an innovative material in the design.
The following are objectives of the current study;
- Analyze materials (i.e. magnesium, fibreglass, carbon fibre) based on:
- Analyze the manufacturing process involved in producing the material in terms of the least negative impact of the manufacturing process on the environment and cost.
- Analyze the impact of the material based on fuel efficiency based on mass reduction of vehicle.
The current study’s literature focused on theories, principles, and practices of material design selection on the final product of automobiles. The literature review’s main aim was to survey previous studies on the material selection of automobiles based on the standard of material selection, which is discussed. It was imperative to collect major data collection requirements for primary research to be conducted, and it developed part of the emergent design process (Denscombe, 2003). A diverse range of data references was used as the major bibliographic tool for recognizing relevant literature for the review. A majority of the literature reviewed was in the form of research papers. The academic work reviewed in the current study is thematically analyzed to ensure organization when grouping key material for examination.
The Automobile Chassis
The main structure is its chassis as it is responsible for resisting breaking or deforming extensively when under load during acceleration, braking, cornering, and combinations of these actions (Smith 1994; Cole 2001; Raghuvanshi et al. 2015; Wu et al. 2014). To appropriately handle these loads, a chassis needs to be of rigid structure in terms of being stiff when under torsion, a form of twisting force applied on the chassis (Raghuvanshi et al. 2015). This particular factor of torsion force or torque is indirectly applied by the vehicle’s wheels and through the suspension when the automobile is cornering. Corning is defined as a lateral acceleration compared to longitudinal acceleration in increasing speed or braking (Cole 2001). In making a car controllable, it is essential that the chassis is high in torsional rigidity. The suspension system of a vehicle is responsible for handling characteristics and weight transfer. Through the components of springs with a certain stiffness, handling characteristics are produced, such as sharp turning (Smith 1994; Cole 2001; Wu et al. 2014; Raghuvanshi et al. 2015). The entire aim of the suspension system and the chassis is to produce a car that can enter corners at high speed while maintaining speed at corners, maximizing speed at exiting corners, and quick transitions from one corner to another (Smith 1994; Wu et al. 2014).
Once again, rigidity plays an imperative part in the chassis. If the chassis that the suspension is connected to is moving when force is applied on the automobile the predictability and ability to adjust the handling are compromised (Raghuvanshi et al. 2015). This is because the chassis manages some of the load that needs to be handled by the suspension and any deflection of the structure changes the position of the suspension points that need to be kept in their relative positions to one another (Cole 2001). Light and rigid chassis is crucial for high-performance automobiles. Through light and rigid chassis, optimal acceleration and braking can occur along with predictable handling (Wu et al. 2014). Car manufacturers most commonly use steel and or aluminium in the production of a chassis.
Selection Standard for Materials in Automobile Design
Material selection for chassis and suspension components vary from company to company since they aim to develop a unique product for its particular market. Changes in design will interact with the materials used and the manufacturing process used to fabricate the components. However, important selection criteria are based on the fact that each car component needs to satisfy its service conductions and expected durability condition while also keeping in mind the product’s reliability and safety. The selection of material for a product is not a standardized process with each company having a preferred supplier. Charles et al. (1989); Smith (1994); Cole (2001); Cole (2001); Dweiri et al. (2006); and Seyfried et al. (2015) agree that lighter materials play a drastic role in weight reduction and an approach for reducing fuel consumption making it valuable criteria in the selection of materials. However, the requirements for selecting the material of a vehicle and each of its components is based; lightweight, economic effectiveness, safety, recyclability, and lifecycle specifications.
Hirsch (2011) composed a weight reduction versus price increase, replacing steel with an alternative material such as aluminium and magnesium. However, there were significant weight reductions. There was also a link of the component’s increased cost, making the alternative option a bit costly as seen in Tab 1.
Lightweight materials in the composition of car components improve the product’s fuel efficiency more than other factors. Tests show that about ten per cent of weight reduction can result in six to eight per cent improvement of fuel usage (A. D. Drozdov et al. 2013; Aleksey D. Drozdov et al. 2013; Drozdov 2013a; Drozdov & Dusunceli 2014; Seyfried et al. 2015). Weight reduction is brought about by replacing materials of high specific weights with lower density materials without compromising rigidity or durability. Other options include optimizing the load-carrying elements and exterior attachments to reduce their weight without loss of functionality and rigidity. Lastly, manufacturers can optimize the production process by reducing spot welding and replacing joining techniques. However, high cost in the replacement of steel with lightweight materials hinders the use of this option.
The automotive industry is driven by consumer factors, one of the most influential being cost. The cost affordability of a car product influences whether or not a new material has an opportunity to be selected as a vehicle component. The cost of a car production considers the actual cost of raw materials, manufacturing value-added, and the cost of design and testing. According to Davies (2012) and Wu et al. (2014), the high cost of composite materials is considered a major obstacle of integrating such materials into components. Phuong et al. (2014) argue that the selection of light metals needs to be justified based on improving its functionality, although it may lead to increased costs. The additional cost of lightweight materials is reduced due to the low weight needed for the overall material making the materials used to offset higher costs (Drozdov & Christiansen 2013; Aleksey D. Drozdov et al. 2013; A. D. Drozdov et al. 2013).
Safety and Recyclability
Major safety concerns that influence the selection of material include the ability to absorb impact energy and survivability of passengers or crashworthiness of the automobile structure. Penetration resistance of a vehicle is focused on the total absorption without allowing projectile motion or fragment penetration (Drozdov 2013b; A. D. Drozdov et al. 2013; Drozdov 2013a). Material selection is also influenced by the vehicle’s crashworthiness from its integration which is basically its potential of absorption of energy through controlled failure modes and mechanisms.
The automobile industry has also increased its concerns over the protection of resources, reducing CO2 emissions, and recycling. The UK, EU, and other Asian countries have introduced guidelines for regulating automobile end-of-life requirements. In the UK, over two million vehicles reach the end of their life annually with laws labelling these products as hazardous waste until they have been treated (Thiruvengadam et al. 2016).
Research Efforts on Vehicle Material
Steel has always been the base choice of material for automobile components due to its strength, ductility, and low cost. According to Du Bois et al. (2004), there has been a large development of knowledge for steel and processing properties and methods for efficient design of steel structures. But since the demand for fuel efficiency and safety has increased worldwide and constant competition from other materials, suppliers of steel have developed more grades and types of high strength steel. A study conducted by Abulesamid (2007) showed a reduction in weight by over 100 kg of Mazda’s cars using high-strength steel to optimize the entire body’s design, including improvements in rigidity and crash resistance. According to the study, 60% of weight-saving came from optimizing structures and using high and ultra-high tensile steel. According to Abuelsamid (2007), there was another 20% saving from feature adjustments and another 20% from decreasing the entire vehicle’s length by 40 mm, and height by 55 mm.
Studies on aluminium (Al) have also been conducted as a desirable factor to induce weight saving. Lavender et al. (2006) find that the use of Al is restrictive due to the complex shapes of aerodynamic hoods, bumpers, and fairings, limited room temperature formability of the material, and high cost of forming tools. However, a study conducted by Schultz (2008) confirms that American automobile companies are increasingly using Al to boost fuel economy, cut emissions, and improve safety standards on products. A study conducted by IBIS Associates (2008) indicates that replacing steel components with Al in a midsize sedan would result in a 17% mass reduction at 1% per less cost. Based on the study, a more than 15% increase in average mileage per litre can be achieved through these weight savings. A study by the Institute of Kraftfahrzeuge (2010) analyzed 26 automotive components to assess the potential or limits of weight reduction for both steel and Al. Based on the study, using Al could result in drastic weight savings ranging from 14 to 49 per cent as compared to only 11% for high-strength steel. Institute of Kraftfahrzeuge (2010) concluded that about 262.5 kg of additional weight savings might result in 1.62 km per litre or 10% further improvement in fuel economy than a traditional automobile while also maintaining the vehicle’s safety.
Magnesium (Mg) is another light structural metal that is gradually piquing the automobile industry’s interest. Mg’s use in the automobile industry is increasing 10 to 15 per cent per year over the last 15 years (Ribeiro et al., 2007). Presently, Mg alloy castings are being used on a limited number of production vehicles. Osborne (2007) performed research on critical issues that limit Mg casting’s large scale application on automotive parts. The study proved successful casting and production of an Mg engine cradle later tested in volume production of the 2006 Z06 Corvette. However, Osborne (2007) study lacked an assessment of the manufacturing feasibility of Mg. This point was later picked up in Maj’s (2007) ‘s study, which examined the manufacturing feasibility, economics, and mass reduction of the thin-wall structural casting of Al and Mg used as an alternative to traditional stamped and welded steel automotive components. Through Maj (2007), two unique casting procedures were identified, which can produce low costing large castings with mechanical properties.
The automotive industry has also looked towards the application of composite materials such as glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) or fibreglass and carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP). Researchers have classified composite materials according to the geometry of the reinforcement of a specific flake and fibre or by the kind of matrix as polymer, metal, and carbon. Polymer fibre composite is a common material used in the automotive industry, with the earliest form by the Chevrolet Corvette in 1953, which incorporated a fibreglass body (Kaw 2006). Knouff et al. (2006) later conducted research efforts to rapidly implement lightweight composite materials in Class 7/8 cars by developing an advanced composite support structure. The study focused on lateral braces to reduce significant weight and market acceptance. Knouff et al. (2006) found a mass reduction between 30 and 50 per cent. However, the study only used finite element analysis (FEA) to model composite support structures and investigate the potential failure of mechanisms through progressive failure analysis. Knouff et al. (2006) lacked significant variables such as accelerated testing for strength and durability to meet vehicle performance requirements. There was also evidence that the Class 8 tractor’s frame was somewhat overbuilt and heavier than required. Other road-worthy commercial cars began to use carbon fibre monocoque cell design used in sports cars and supercars. In contrast, big car manufacturers such as BMW have developed prototypes to apply on passenger cars such as BMW i3.
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The literature review indicates that there is a need for more research into the process of selecting and selection innovative materials of chassis. Based on the literature review key factors were highlighted on the impact they have on the variety of equipment for an automotive component. There is a need to examine these factors. There seem to be no relevant studies that particularly examine these factors about magnesium, carbon fibre, and fibre-glass as material alternatives for specifical chassis.
The approach for assessing these materials in light of the following characteristics;
- Reduces costs
- Reduces effect on the environment
These characteristics will be analysed using a research approach that combines that analysis of Ashby’s steps to material selection, a cost analysis, and Life Cycle Analysis (LCA).
Ashby’s Approach to Material Selection
A material parallel to the stated characteristics previously is conducted using selection criteria outlined by Micheal F. Ashby in Materials Selection in Mechanical Design (Ashby 2011a; Ashby 2011b). The selection strategy chosen includes the following steps to determine the best innovative material for a chassis;
- Material attributes
- Selection strategies
- Screening (Attribute limitations)
- Ranking (Material Indices)
- Local conductions
Based on this strategy presented by Ashby (2011), the selection procedure for finalising the innovative material for a chassis will be similar. It will contain the following steps;
- Translation and deriving the material index as evident in Fig. 1: reinterpreting the design requirements in terms of function, constraints, objectives, and free variables (Ashby 2011b).
- Screening; Appling attribute limitations: Deriving attribute limits from the constraints and applying them to isolate a subset of viable materials (Ashby 2011b).
- Ranking material based on indices on charts: Ordering the viable candidates by the value of the material index, the requirements of excellence that maximise or mitigate some performance measure (Ashby 2011b).
- Documentation of selections: This step includes looking for documentations for the top-ranking choices, it explores the aspect of their history, their established uses, their behaviour in their relevant environments, availability, and more. This documentation phase continues until a more appropriately detailed picture is built of the final choice (Ashby 2011b).
- In addition to the steps of selections outlined by Ashby (2011), the life cycle analysis/assessment method will also be used to select the material based on its impact on the environment, overall cost, manufacturing/production, and longevity.
Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)
The LCA methodology is used to assess the new innovative car component materials through their respective life cycle to evaluate the corresponding environmental impact. Using this model, the research can verify if the material has a lower environmental load and in which phases it contributes the most to the global environmental impact. Davies (2012) the LCA is an imperative tool that needs to be used for guiding the environmental design improvements in the automotive industry. Raghuvanshi et al. (2015) define the LCA as a quantitative evaluation of ecological aspects, including GHG emissions, energy consumption, and acidification. The process consists of the following phases illustrated in Fig. 2 that will be implemented in the current study;
- Development phases: assess materials.
- Production phase: assesses components and complete car.
- Use phase: assesses fuel/electricity of production and production of a product
- Recycling phase: assesses the process of chains of valuable materials.
Figure 2: LCA Model
Before the LCA is conducted, it is imperative to specify boundaries by deciding the processes that need to be examined. To evaluate the environmental aspects and potential effects linked to the chassis’ material from raw material acquisition to final product disposal, an LCA methodology based on International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) will be used (van der Harst et al. 2014; Liamsanguan & Gheewala 2008). For this particular reason, the need for the LCA software SimaPro 8.2.0 arises. The software allows the researcher to access the problem-oriented approach CML 2 baseline 2000 to assess the material component’s environmental impact.
The purpose of the LCA under this study will be to identify options for improving the car component’s environmental performance under its more innovative material (Inaba et al. 2010). The results of the assessment can be used for product and process development by automotive companies. This will allow manufactures to analyse the impact of changes in the process, meaning the technology, inputs, and production composition as a whole on the environment (Domenech et al. 2014).
Life Cycle Analysis Results
The LCA had been performed using the SimaPro software. Based on the model for LCA outlined in Fig. 2, the results have been broken down. The energy consumption through each scenario’s lifecycle with a chassis made from the three chosen materials can be seen in Fig. 3. Regardless of the material used, the energy consumption was most in the use phase of the life cycle. This is most likely due to the petrol consumption in this specific phase with the chassis installed into a standard mid-size vehicle. Based on the analysis, the use phase contributes to 65% of the total energy consumption through the whole lifecycle. During the materials’ production phase, the energy consumption is much less for Mg than both fibre-glass and carbon fibre. The production of the mid-size car phase shows an increase in energy consumption due to the higher content of plastic and steel in the production sub-processes and the longer distances travelled. Lastly, the LCA recycling phase has negative energy consumption due to the environmental benefits that result from steel sub-components, individual material component recycling. However, the total energy consumption observed through each of the materials is 9.74 MJ/component for Mg, 10.14 MJ/component for carbon fibre, and 10.2 MJ/component for fibre-glass; this consists of mostly renewable energy.
Figure 3- Life cycle energy consumption for Materials
The LCA also determined the amount of hypothetical solid waste products from each of the phases for the selected materials, illustrated in Fig. 4. Surprisingly the solid waste generated in the use phase is considered negligible compared to that of the material production phase and product production phase. In the production phase, the Mg is accounted for the most solid waste generation, primarily due to plastics such as POM and EPDM production. The quantity of solid waste generation for each material selection in the final disposal phase or recycling is similar, mainly because of relations to the plastic landfill
Figure 4- Life cycle solid wastes generation for materials
The LCA model also provided us with cumulative life cycle air emissions of carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), Sulphur oxides (SOx), and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) illustrated in Fig. 5. Emissions regarding these variables are lower than traditional mid-sized vehicles with a steel body and chassis. However, the NM VOC g/component air emissions for Mg, carbon fibre and fibre-glass are negligible. With Mg producing 0.035 g/component of NM VOC, 0.014 g/component produced by both carbon fibre and fibre-glass. Chassis produced by carbon fibre had the least amount of air emissions total than the other two materials under analysis. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in a traditional steel body and chassis mid-size care productions 416 g/component while alternative materials like Mg, carbon fibre, and fibre-glass production estimate 270 g/component. The proportion of CO2 emissions to energy consumption (Fig. 3) is in agreement caused by the large use of carbon-based fossil fuels such as petrol. Based on these correlations, the use phase accounts for the major leap in life cycle air emissions as they are the variables most related to fuel production and combustion in this phase.
Figure 5- Cumulative life cycle air emissions for materials
The life cycle impact assessment was obtained using the problem-oriented approach CML baseline 2000 with impact categories being defined at mid-levels are presented in the report in Figs. 6, 7, 8, and 9. This method concluded that the use of carbon fibre is environmentally preferable to fibre-glass and Mg, as seen in Fig 6. However, regardless of which material is used, it is still more preferable to use with less impact than steel, which has a 100% impact on all the environmental variables. To break down the impact of the chosen materials on chassis production for a mid-sized car, it was essential to categorise the material’s impact according to its specific step in the LCA cycle. All categories saw the greatest amount of environmental impact during the use phase of each of the materials.
Figure 6- Cumulative life cycle air emissions for materials
It seems that the use phase of the LCA had the greatest contribution to the global environment. This is a critical phase, and specific procedures must be allocated to mitigate this phase’s impact as much as possible, regardless of which material is used. However, analysing the impacts closely, it is evident that an Mg chassis contributes to the greater impact on the environment due to a great percentage of impact on its use phase, as seen in Fig. 9. Carbon fibre chassis produced the least amount of environmental impact in all categories, especially that in the use phase, as illustrated in Fig. 8. Lighter weight may be why carbon fibre is performing better as a material causing reduced fuel consumption, which reduces the negative impact on the global environment.
Figure 7- LCA Impact Results for Fibre Glass
Figure 8- LCA Impact Results for Carbon Fibre
Figure 9- LCA Impact results for Mg
Table 2- Comparison of findings with previous work on the economic competitiveness of composite material and Mg
|Kang 1998||Fuchs 2007||Fuchs et al. 2008|
|Mg-carbon cost parity (APV)||4,5000||30.000|
|Mg-glass cost parity (APV)||45,000||100,000|
|Mg-carbon/glass mix cost parity (APV)||55,000||25,000||N/A|
|Carbon fibre price ($/kg)||$16.50||$11.00||$22.00|
|Glass fibre price ($/kg)||$3.20||$2.00||$2.75|
|Assembly fixture cost||N/A||Small: $250,000
Figure 10- Chassis production cost to production volume (I) total manufacturing cost; (II) parts production; (III) assembly (IV) Total manufacturing unit cost breakdown at 100,000 units annually
An Mg option is the least costly alternative for chassis production when the assumptions are made for high production volumes. This is because Mg has low material costs and breakneck production cycles than carbon-fibre and fibre-glass. Also, Mg designs are considered less cost-competitive than those of composite materials at lower production volume due to the high carrying costs of what is usually expensive, underused Mg stamping equipment and tools. Presented in Fig. 10-IV is the yearly production volumes (APV) of 100,000 units annually. This includes the cost of the machine, equipment, building, maintenance, and overhead which are considered a fixed expense and make up about 58 per cent of chassis costs made from Mg. The fixed costs are seen for carbon fibre as 24 per cent and glass fibre production of a chassis at 40 per cent.
However, through the thorough picture presented in Fig. 10-II and –III, it isolates component production and assembly cost of a chassis. According to Fig 10-II, composite chassis have fewer total components than compared to Mg. Surprisingly, the sum of the modelled composite chassis and the insert costs is expressively larger than the sum of the Mg component and insert costs. On the contrary, this premise only holds when the annual production volumes are above 35,000 for fibre-glass. The approximations made for assembling the composite chassis are still significantly less expensive than that of Mg chassis assembly.
Bio-composites and Environmental Impact
Based on the discussion above, it is evident that any of the bio-composite materials are environmentally friendly in production for a car chassis. However, bio-composites come with a significant drawback in terms of end of life use of the materials. At present, a majority of the fibres and resins being used in production are derived from petroleum feedstocks and do not degrade for several decades under normal environmental conditions. Therefore, composites made from thermosetting resins can’t be reprocessed or recycled (Mohanty et al. 2000). However, a small portion of these thermosetting composites can be crushed into a powder that can be used as filler or incinerated to take energy in heat. Nonetheless, most of these materials end up in landfills at the end of their term in life (Mitra 2014). Mitra (2014) argues that thermoset-based composites cannot be recycled at all.
The LCA results show that carbon fibre is a valuable material to be used as a car chassis. The manufacturing of carbon fibre is a heat-intensive process with many manufacturers looking for ways to reduce the process’s energy demands. During manufacturing, oxidation and carbonisation furnaces and industrial ovens can emit HCN, NH3, and VOCs. Some of these pollutants are immediately dangerous to human health, even if exposed to small quantities (Mohammed et al. 2015). Other pollutants from the production of carbon fibre include GHGs like CO and NOx. (Mohammed et al. 2015) Most carbon fibre waste ends up in landfills where its characteristics of being strong, durable, and light-weight inhibit it from breaking down like other organic material. The reclamation and recycling process of carbon fibre is fairly new and expensive. Through the process of pyrolysis, the material can be broken down by heating it at extreme temperatures in an oxygen-less environment (Holbery and Houston 2006). Other components of the product are melted away with pristine carbon fibres being left to be reused. The process takes more energy and money than compared to steel.
On the other hand, fibre-glass is agreed on to be an irritant causing skin irritation associated with thick fibres. Fibre-glass can also irritate the eyes and throat. With enough exposure, fibre-glass may produce irritation dermatitis and difficulty breathing. The use of styrene in primary fibre-glass production methods causes hazardous air pollution that is extremely harmful to breathe in excessive levels (Holbery and Houston 2006).
In anaerobic conditions like those found in landfills, the petroleum-based composites may not degrade making the land unavailable for any other use. When it comes to composites’ incineration, the process produces toxic gases and requires expensive scrubbers (Holbery and Houston 2006). Both these processes, incineration and dumping in landfills, are considered environmentally undesirable and expensive.
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Today’s automobiles are made with over 63 per cent of iron and steel based on weight. However, with the increasing concerns of energy and the environment, vehicle weight reduction has become a prominent concern for automobile manufacturers. The current study looked to understand how innovative alternative designs can be used for an automobile chassis. The main structure is its chassis as it is responsible for resisting breaking or deforming extensively when under load during acceleration, braking, cornering, and combinations of these actions (Smith 1994; Cole 2001; Raghuvanshi et al. 2015; Wu et al. 2014). Light and rigid chassis is crucial for high-performance automobiles. Through light and rigid chassis, optimal acceleration and braking can occur along with predictable handling (Wu et al. 2014). Car manufacturers most commonly use steel and or aluminium in the production of a chassis.
Based on the current study, three specific materials were analyzed to see which can be the best material for a chassis. For this reason, life cycle analysis had taken place in parallel to analyze the production cost of the component. Previous studies had suggested that polymer or other composite materials would have the potential to achieve economic viability at low production volumes. However, since many of these studies, several technological advances had taken place in the study of fibre enforced polymer automobile component designs. Using the latest developments on polymer composite design Fuchs et al. (2010)’s process-based cost modelling was used to understand the cost feasibility of an alternative material for the chassis. The life cycle assessment was used to comprehend the environmental impact on the different stages of manufacturing an automobile with a chassis made from the alternative materials; Mg, carbon fibre, and fibreglass. Based on the current study’s analysis, the best choice for a chassis looking at the cost and environmental results is a carbon-fibre chassis. Based on the findings, a carbon-fibre chassis is not only better for the environment than compared to Mg and fibreglass; the material is also cost-effective.
Manufacturing Carbon Fibre
Carbon fibre was the chosen material based on the LCA results and cost analysis. To manufacture a carbon fibre chassis, automobile factories will have to introduce and install new equipment specifically to produce carbon fibre parts. Currently, automotive parts made from carbon fibre require special mould equipment and are labour intensive. The process is not yet automated as other car part manufacturing is. However, companies such as Far UK, Axontex TM, and Lamborghini are developing time and labour saving manufacturing processes of carbon fibre. Therefore, this section will discuss the traditional method of making carbon fibre parts in terms of a chassis and the current in Lamborghini’s production process known as Forged Composite.
Typical Carbon Fibre Parts Manufacturing Process
To begin the manufacturing process for an automobile chassis, CAD software is used to make the models, or simple schematics can be translated using other computer software into a geometric diagram for the chassis frame (Morgan 2005). The software will also calculate the shape, which is considered strong enough and calculate the thickness of the carbon fibre to take the pressure (Morgan 2005). Cutting machines are then used to slice up carbon fibre shapes that will become frame components. Then a machined mould from aluminium for all components of the chassis is made (Vaidya 2011). The mould is fitted with a latex balloon. The latex balloon is wrapped with a layer of carbon fibre material. It is essential for the fibre material to all run in one direction to ensure strength. To add to the part’s strength, several layers of carbon fibre are applied in a crisscross pattern. The aluminium mould cavity is coated with a release agent to prevent it from sticking (Vaidya 2011). The now wrapped latex balloon is placed inside the mould. The balloon has installed an inflation cap. The mould is placed in a specialized heat press which is hooked up to pressurized gas (Vaidya 2011). The mould is inserted with a temperature and pressure monitor. The inflation of the latex balloon forces the carbon fibre to take the shape of the mould cavity. The mould is extracted from the heat press after a specific amount of time. The moulded part is then extracted, and refining the part begins (Morgan 2005).
First of all and any release agent residue is sanded off the chassis part. The parts are then matched to ensure that exact specifications were met for a precise fit with its connection parts (Vaidya 2011). Based on the geometric diagram produced the chassis frame can be assembled like a puzzle. Once it is ensured that all the components fit together properly, the pieces are disassembled. After this, the chassis components’ connectors are coated with a super-strong aerospace adhesive (Morgan 2005). The parts are then reassembled, and the glue is cured in an oven for a specific amount of time to ensure that the adhesive is set and firm. The chassis frame then needs to go on to an inspection table where the technician uses digital measuring equipment to maintain the chassis’s alignment. Components such as test wheels need to be placed and checked if they rotate perfectly straight (Vaidya 2011; Morgan 2005). Afterwards, any excess adhesive is removed from the frame to give it an overall sanding to ensure that the surface is smooth before further processing of the automobile takes place (Vaidya 2011; Morgan 2005).
Repair of specific components in common garages will need the equipment mentioned in the process above. This will also include new training for dealing with carbon fibre material. However, many car manufacturers currently using carbon fibre chassis have premade structures ready for repairs or replacement available at dealerships.
Lamborghini’s Forged Composite Process
Lamborghini is developing an innovative product and process known as Forged Composite (Zurschmeide 2016). With this process, the material starts as a sheet of uncured plastic mixed with short lengths of randomly placed carbon fibre strands. Using this method, it is unnecessary to carefully cut the carbon fibre material and lay it out precisely in a mould, unlike the traditional pre-preg carbon fibre cloth methods described previously (Lamborghini 2017). Manufacturers will only have to cut off the right mass and place it into a hot press mould. Afterwards, the pressure is applied to it and heat, and the process of moulding the component is complete. Through this process, the part that is being made comes out of the mould lighter and stiffer than conventionally laid-up carbon fibre parts. Also, the process allows the manufacturer to introduce the carbon fibre part in minutes instead of hours which is common in the traditional methods (Zurschmeide 2016).
Lamborghini’s process changes Manufacturing’s methods because carbon fibre can be treated the way the automobile industry has always treated steel, aluminium, and unreinforced plastic (Zurschmeide 2016). Through the innovative process, the manufacturers will simply be stamping out needed parts. This process will be essential in the future where automobile companies are looking to make a lighter-weight vehicle—making carbon fibre parts without the extra intensive and time-consuming labour, which is expensive, more automated. The technology was introduced in 2010 in Lamborghini’s Sesto Elemento supercar (Zurschmeide 2016; Lamborghini 2017). The process was used to make several structural elements for the care. Lamborghini is continuing to refine the process and the carbon fibre material with it now being used in a variety of chassis, body, and trim pieces (Lamborghini 2017).
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