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Ferrari’s Portofino took the top spot in the Full Vehicle low-volume production category due largely to its focus on structural optimization and part integration. (Ferrari)

Mass-reducing innovations honored by Altair

The 4th generation Jeep Wrangler, which eliminated 92 kg (203 lb) compared to the previous-generation vehicle, and Ferrari’s Portofino, which is 80 kg (176 lb) lighter yet 35% stiffer than the outgoing California T that it replaces, were the Full Vehicle category winners of the 7th annual Altair Enlighten Awards, presented by Altair and the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) at the Management Briefing Seminars (MBS) in Traverse City, Mich.

In the Module category, ZF won for its latest low-mounted knee airbag design that replaces the typical metal housing with an industry-first fabric housing. Material Sciences Corp. (MSC) won top honors in the Enabling Technology category for MSC Smart Steel, the first-ever spot weldable low-density composite laminate to be used in a body application.

The Future in Lightweighting winner again was determined by MBS attendees, who selected a feasibility study for an ultra-lightweight vehicle seat that resulted from a collaboration between Alba Tooling & Engineering, Automotive Management Consulting GmbH, and csi entwicklungstechnik GmbH. This category, reserved for technology that has not yet been employed on a commercial production platform, was narrowed to nine finalists by the international judging panel, consisting of experts from industry, academia and the engineering media (including the author, associate editor for SAE’s Automotive Engineering magazine).

Judges obviously considered the mass-cutting efficacy of the technologies, but cost reduction, improved performance, part count reduction, and applicability to other vehicle programs were other major factors. “Cost is an important component,” Carla Bailo, president and CEO at CAR, said during the awards ceremony. “It’s easier to reduce weight when cost isn’t a consideration, but to do both is a challenge and true accomplishment.”

Full Vehicle—Winning the high-volume production segment, the 2018 Wrangler boasts a multi-material strategy employing aluminum, sheet molding compound (SMC) and high-strength steel (HSS). Nearly 15 kg (33 lb) were added to the 2017 JK body for NVH, safety and other functional objectives, but 66 kg (145 lb) of lightweighting was achieved to make the new JL body system 51 kg (112 lb) lighter than its predecessor, a greater than 12% reduction. Body-in-white (BIW) material and design optimization accounted for 24.7 kg (54 lb) of that savings, the Al-intensive closures another 36.3 kg (80 lb), and the move from standard SMC to low-density SMC for the hardtop cut an additional 5 kg (11 lb).

“This is the most extensive use of high-strength steels [at 79%] you’ll see on any frame,” said James Truskin, technical fellow – body advanced architecture, noting that Wrangler’s frame is 52.5 kg (116 lb) lighter than the previous one.

The result of a four-year development program, this year’s low-volume production category winner, the 2018 Portofino, benefitted from Ferrari engineers’ intense focus on structural optimization and integration of components for the new platform of the front-engine architecture. The A-pillar, for example, now consists of two pieces compared to 21 different components in the previous model. An innovative aluminum low-pressure die-casting process was developed to make this possible: thin-wall hollow components, with a minimum thickness of 2.6 mm (0.1 in), have been produced. The parts integration approach enabled a 30% reduction in length of the welding seams.

40% of the Portofino’s overall weight loss is attributable to the aluminum BIW (12 different alloys are used for extrusions, castings and sheet metal), 30% to its interior, and 10% each from the engine, exterior, and electric/electronics. Because the application of new technologies has been balanced by the mass savings, the final cost impact was “completely neutral,” according to Ferrari.

Module—ZF spent about three years in core development and an additional two years in application development to launch its new fabric-housing knee airbag module on the Skoda Scala in May 2019. Initially, replacing metal with fabric for the application seemed “so impossible that it starts to get interesting,” said Werner Freisler, who led the core engineering efforts within ZF Passive Safety Systems Engineering. A specialized thermo-fixation process, which applies heat to the module after the folding process and requires the use of new automated processes and machinery, helped to overcome some challenges. The result is a product that is not only 30% lighter than previous designs but also 20% more compact.

The housing fabric is a typical nylon like that used in an airbag but is uncoated. ZF is evaluating other commodities, such as passenger airbags, for this technology. The fabric-housing module will launch with other customers/brands late this year and early 2020. Several patents have been filed for the design.

Runner-up in the Module category was General Motors and Continental Structural Plastics for the CarbonPro pickup box, an industry-first carbon fiber-reinforced thermoplastic design that saves 28 kg (62 lb) and offers best-in-class impact resistance.

Enabling Technology—The result of a five-year development program, MSC Smart Steel is a new multilayer steel laminate engineered as a direct substitute for vehicle body parts stamped from low carbon steel. The three-layer laminate—the outer skins are steel and the middle layer consists of a low-density conductive polymer core—achieves an overall density reduction of about 35% compared with monolithic steel. MSC can adjust the metal-to-core thickness ratio to “tune” the Smart Steel to the stiffness / mass savings requirements of different applications.

The first application of MSC Smart Steel is for the roof bows on the upper body structure of the 2020 Lincoln Aviator (July 2019 launch). The Ford Escape / Kuga / Lincoln Corsair platform will start production in the third quarter of 2019 with Smart Steel roof bows. In the case of the Escape, each of the three Smart Steel roof bows results in a 31% mass savings or 0.5 lb (0.2 kg) per part. Additional applications now in the engineering phase at various OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers include a seat structure, exposed truck bumpers, roof systems and BIW stampings.

The Enabling Technology runner-up was the all-new Arnitel thermoplastic copolyester (TPC) hot charge air duct for the 2019 Cadillac XT4 2.0-L turbo engine, replacing a thermoset rubber solution. DSM Engineering Plastics, Cikautxo Group, General Motors, and Henn GmbH & Co KG were recognized.

Future of Lightweighting—A feasibility study for #ULTRALEICHTBAUSITZ, a collaborative effort by Alba Tooling & Engineering, Automotive Management Consulting, and csi entwicklungstechnik, aims to completely rethink car seat design via generative technologies, moving from an idea to hardware prototype in 7 months. Their goal was to manufacture a comfortable and highly adaptable seat prototype weighing about 10 kg (22 lb), or a 20% mass savings.

Technologies used for the creation of the hybrid-material structure include metal and polymer additive manufacturing, generative carbon fiber filament winding (xFK in 3D), 3D printing for backrest cushions and an intra-laminar reinforcing core back panel (3D|CORE).

For a list of finalists and their innovations, visit

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