This article also appears in
Subscribe now »

The body-in-white for the Full Vehicle category-winning Chrysler Pacifica contributed to overall weight savings. The BIW is 60 kg (132 lb) lighter than the previous structure. (image: Chrysler)

Altair Enlighten Awards: 2017's best mass-cutting innovations

For the fifth consecutive summer in northern Michigan, the spotlight shone on vehicle mass-reduction innovations when Altair and the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) recognized industry leaders during the Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City. This year’s Enlighten Awards honored four winners: the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica in the Full Vehicle category; Toyota’s carbon-fiber closure panels for the 2017 Prius Prime and Lexus LC500, and Faurecia’s Adaptive Valve for exhaust systems employed on the 2017 Chevrolet Silverado, in the Module category; and Swedish metal forming specialist AP&T’s new aluminum forming technology used on several luxury sports vehicles for Enabling Technology.

The award is judged by automotive experts from industry, academia and the engineering media (including the author, who edits SAE’s Truck & Off-Highway Engineering magazine). This year they considered the merits of 29 finalists across the three categories. The competition is open to OEMs, systems/parts suppliers and materials suppliers from all auto industry segments including heavy truck.

Full Vehicle—The Pacifica prevailed among the four full-vehicle finalists chiefly because of its significant 113-kg (249-lb) mass reduction compared to its predecessor. The FCA team developed the minivan from a clean sheet to achieve not only a lighter vehicle, but one with improved safety, better NVH performance, enhanced interior space and comfort, and several new features. (See and for more.)

The body system (including closures) shed 76 kg (168 lb), utilizing high-strength steels (HSS) and large amounts of dual phase, TRIP and hot-stamped material grades for improved impact protection at reduced weight. The structure is 72% HSS—the highest percentage of any minivan in the industry, Chrysler claims.

Aluminum and cast magnesium were used for the rear sliding door, liftgate and the instrument panel beam, while the front-end module is a steel-plastic overmold to improve part integration and stiffness. The cost increase of the Mg material used in the liftgate is minimized by part integration—a 50% reduction in the number of components in the assembly, according to FCA.

“The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is our engineering response to the rapidly changing industry climate,” said Phil Jansen, Head of Product Development – FCA North America. “Customers are in need of ever-greater efficiency, but not at the expense of functionality. The Pacifica’s spacious package, delivered with a reduction in mass, allows us to exceed expectations.”

The Full-Vehicle runner-up was Honda for the multi-material spaceframe of the 2017 Acura NSX, which used extensive CAE and topology optimization for extrusion components resulting in a 14-kg (31-lb) weight savings vs. typical off-the-shelf extrusion profile stock. Ablation casting allowed for an 8-kg (18-lb) reduction vs. traditional casting.

“Simulation technologies are playing a leading role in this [lightweighting] effort, with almost all of the full-vehicle and module entries citing the use of design optimization technologies for innovative, material efficient products,” said Richard Yen, Senior Vice-President, Automotive and Global Markets Team at Altair. “I believe this momentum will continue apace.”

Module—Toyota and Faurecia tied for the top honor in the Module category, which focuses on vehicle systems, subsystems and components. Beating out 13 other finalists are Toyota’s first applications of CFRP to non-exotic vehicles. The side and luggage doors of the Lexus LC and the liftgate of the Toyota Prius Prime feature CFRP inner panels combined with aluminum, glass-fiber reinforced plastic (GFRP) and polypropylene outers for weight savings ranging from 40-47% compared to conventional metal structures.

The Prius liftgate molded inner has much deeper draw than Al sheet, enabling the PP spoiler to incorporate dual-wave styling that helps cut aerodynamic drag. The Lexus side door offers improved sound insulation and audio performance. All three closure assemblies are designed to manage thermal expansion differences.

“Toyota is excited to offer closure systems that are optimized to the unique mission of each vehicle,” said JP Flaharty, Executive Program Manager at Toyota Motor North America R&D. “Our customers can recognize the light touch and high-tech appearance of these sophisticated, lightweight door systems.”

Faurecia’s winning entry, the Adaptive Valve, is an offset shaft spring return butterfly valve located in the intermediate pipe of the exhaust system. Its specific purpose is to address NVH concerns caused by cylinder deactivation by presenting the exhaust flow with a variable restriction. The valve requires less package space than traditional systems and its unique design reduces muffler mass by 12 kg (26.5 lb) on the Silverado, to 21 kg (46 lb) for the current production exhaust system.

“We are extremely proud of our Adaptive Valve team for their hard work on this project,” said Dave DeGraaf, President of Faurecia Clean Mobility North America. “This recognition is a testament to their creativity and dedication.”

Enabling Technology—This new category for 2017, to recognize technological advances that enable manufacturers to save weight, was claimed by AP&T, topping 9 other finalists. The company’s aluminum forming technology is the world’s first multipurpose production line for high-strength aluminum sheet metal. It enables flexibility in the forming of high-strength car body components with complex shapes and the ability to down-gauge, leading to weight savings between 30-50%. The technology can be used for hot-forming, w-tempering and warm-forming of aluminum.

“Winning this award is a big accomplishment for the whole AP&T team, who is dedicated to help our customers constantly produce lighter, safer and more energy-efficient products with a low climate and environmental impact,” said Christian Koroschetz, CTO, Technology Development at AP&T. “The multipurpose production line we developed enables outstanding flexibility in the forming of high-strength aluminum components (AA6xxx and AA7xxx) as well as an enhancement in freedom of design and makes function and part integration possible in new ways.”

Constellium was runner-up in the Enabling Technology category for its HSA6 aluminum alloys, which support the development of vehicles that are 15-30% lighter than those produced using conventional 6000-series aluminum alloys.

Continue reading »