Shedding Pounds in DOE's Multi-Material Lightweight Vehicle Project

Through persistence and cooperation, an automaker and multiple industry suppliers have come together to develop a multi-material concept vehicle that shaved off 25 percent of its weight when compared to a production model.

With support from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Multi-Material Lightweight Vehicle (MMLV) project, Ford Motor Co. partnered with Vehma International, a division within Magna International Inc., to create a concept 2013 Ford Fusion that weighs as much as a 2013 Ford Fiesta.

The energy department's MMLV project is an effort by the federal government to support the advancement of lightweight vehicle technology and showcase the innovations that are available to manufacture more fuel efficient vehicles. Now more than ever, automakers and suppliers are aggressively researching new materials and processes to achieve weight loss in order to meet stringent fuel economy regulations aimed at improving performance and reducing CO2 emissions.

A side-by-side comparison of a traditional oil pan and that of the new oil pan made with carbon fiber composites. A side-by-side comparison of a traditional oil pan and that of the new oil pan made with carbon fiber composites.

Featuring a new aluminum-intensive passenger car structure and advanced materials like carbon composite in the instrument panel and cross-car beam, the concept Fusion explores future weight-reduction solutions and represents a major stepping stone for the use of lightweight materials.

To help achieve the 25 percent weight loss, Ford turned to BASF to provide carbon fiber compounds and help develop the parts.

Montaplast also joined the team, providing design for manufacturability, tooling and engineering support.

With a small core team of approximately 10 people and working with new materials, overcoming obstacles became the name of the game.

"One of the key challenges with carbon fiber composites is that the fibers are much more thermally conductive than traditional glass fibers and, therefore, when injected into the tool, the material tends to freeze off much more quickly and it proved difficult to uniformly fill out the parts," said Scott Schlicker, Powertrain Market Segment manager at BASF. "We used mold filling analysis to identify the number of gates required to help us address this issue."

During the project, BASF made several composite formulations before finding the right balance of flow and mechanical properties - eventually providing a 30 percent weight savings in the oil pan and engine front cover, which made a significant contribution to the overall weight savings of the vehicle.

Composed of carbon fiber composites, the engine front cover helped significantly reduce the overall weight over the vehicle. Composed of carbon fiber composites, the engine front cover helped significantly reduce the overall weight over the vehicle.

"We had the material development expertise to create a high flow composite while maintaining outstanding mechanical properties," Schlicker said. "Additionally, we had the applications development and CAE expertise to redesign and optimize the current parts for composites so that we could maintain the structural performance of the engine."

BASF brings several competencies to the industry including new material technologies, composite design expertise, and tooling & process support, making BASF an outstanding partner for addressing the automotive industry's most pressing challenges.

"Few material suppliers have all of the technical capabilities and knowhow that we have to offer," Schlicker said.