Altair Honors Innovations in Automotive Lightweighting and Sustainability
Plastics, steel and aluminum technologies that reduce weight and emissions recognized with 2023 Altair Enlighten Awards.
Toyota and its segment-first IsoDynamic Performance Seat were big winners in this year’s Altair Enlighten Awards, honored during an awards ceremony at the 2023 CAR Management Briefing Seminars (MBS) in August. Debuting in the 2024 Tacoma TRD Pro, the performance seat’s various lightweight structures took the top spot for both the Enabling Technology and the Module Lightweighting categories.
Four other category winners, along with runners-up and honorable mentions, showcased how automotive and commercial-vehicle companies are applying advanced technologies and artificial intelligence to create a more sustainable future for the industry. “They demonstrate exceptional leadership in this area, but more importantly they demonstrate how these innovative solutions can be achieved by collaborating with the supply chain,” Richard Yen, Altair’s senior VP for product and strategy, said at the ceremony in Traverse City, Michigan. “We are seeing a lot of companies bring the suppliers together to [drive] innovation, which serves as an inspiration for all of us who would like to make a commitment to a better future.”
As companies increasingly electrify their product portfolios, lightweighting efforts must continue, Alan Amici, president and CEO, Center for Automotive Research (CAR), stressed. “EVs are heavy. They are as much as 1,000 kg [2,205 lb] heavier than their ICE counterparts,” he reminded the MBS audience. “Of course, we know from our work in fuel economy that weight is directly [related] to range. Just because we’re moving away from CO2-generating propulsion, we still have to be thinking about how to make vehicles lighter.”
Lightweighting Enabling Technology
Winner: Engineers at Toyota worked closely with counterparts at BASF and US Farathane on what they claim is the world’s first adoption of a resin frame, as used for the IsoDynamic Performance Seat in the 2024 Tacoma TRD Pro. Toyota converted more than 17 multi-piece steel parts into just one molded part, resulting in an estimated 20% cost reduction and a 30% weight reduction, while passing all front-row seat requirements. Another claimed first is the adoption of lateral, vertical and horizontal dynamic motions, with adjustable dampers for the driver and passenger seats in offroad vehicles.
Injection molded by US Farathane, the seat structure uses a combination of BASF’s Ultramid impact-modified polyamide grades. Using BASF’s Ultrasim CAE program, the seatback and cushion structural design optimization creates a suspension system that ensures lateral rigidity in resin frames while improving the seat occupant’s ride. Innovation throughout the process has “massive potential” for other applications, according to BASF’s Kipp Grumm, senior technical development engineer, Performance Materials. “The unique design of the injection-molded resin seat frame can open the door for future projects in offroad vehicles,” he said.
Runner-up: Chinese EV maker NIO applied high-pressure die casting (HPDC) material and processing methods for the rear-floor structure of its 2023 ES6 electric SUV. The company used a new alloy material that does not require heat treatment, as well as a more accurate and efficient laser cleaning process. These changes resulted in a reduction of part mass by 31%, reduced part count by 98% (54 stamped parts replaced by a single part!) and a 60% improvement in manufacturing time.
Winner: Toyota, with its supplier partners Adient and Multimatic, again won for innovations employed in the IsoDynamic seat. Its structure is made using Multimatic’s proprietary Accra technology, a high-volume, hot-form manufacturing process that uses form blow-hardening (including rapid water quenching) to manufacture ultra-high-strength boron steel. The process helped to reduce mass by 17% and packaging space by 40% – and it also increased torsional load strength in key areas by 30%.
Accra structures have been used for sport bars and front-bumper reinforcements, for example, but the seat application is new. “Luckier than good is a great thing,” a Toyota engineer said at MBS. “Multimatic just happened to be in the office doing a presentation. I’m like, ‘I need that. We need to put it somewhere else.’”
Runner-up: Nemak developed a new alloy material for high-pressure die casting (HPDC) that reduced the overall weight of BMW’s e-bracket by 30% compared to a starting design, resulting in a final weight of 16.74 kg (36.9 lb). Positioned at the front of the vehicle, the e-bracket is a central carrier for EV powertrain components such as the electric motor, inverter and compressor.
Future of Lightweighting
Winner: Marelli developed a new, lightweight polyurethane foam that can be applied to all foam-in-place (FIP) applications, particularly the main dashboard panel. It reportedly reduces part mass by 40% with new tooling, or 8% with current tooling, and decreases foam thickness by 50% to support styling aesthetics. The new foam, the result of a joint development with materials partner Covestro, also cuts raw material costs by 20% and volatile organic compounds by 80% compared to the current polyurethane foam in use, while retaining a high-quality feel and appearance.
The project began during the Covid-19 pandemic. “We set out with a 25 percent weight-reduction target. With our first trials in future production tools, we found that it exceeded that target – that blew our socks off,” a Marelli representative said at MBS. “The key metric to us was actually having it be reverse-compatible to current tooling and programs so that we can deploy this in the current vehicles.”
Runner-up: Ajedium PEEK slot liners developed by Solvay Specialty Polymers can reduce battery-pack weight by 12 kg (36.4 lb) and the e-motor by 4 kg (8.8 lb). There is no requirement for high-power dedusting equipment or climate-controlled storage to prevent moisture uptake (reducing energy consumption), since PEEK slot liners can be inserted using existing equipment.
Honorable Mention: WorldAutoSteel and engineering partner Ricardo developed steel body structures for a fully-autonomous vehicle concept that meets stringent crash requirements. The concept features a 282-kg (622-lb) body structure and a 25% mass reduction compared to an expected reference vehicle, the organizations claim. It also has the potential to reduce total lifecycle carbon emissions by 86%.
Honorable Mention: Michigan Technological University created a steel e-motive side closure mechanism as part of the Auto/Steel Partnership. The mechanism uses advanced high-strength steel (AHSS) instead of aluminum, potentially cutting carbon emissions by 3X while also reducing manufacturing costs.
Winner (passenger vehicle): The 2024 Polestar 2 features next-generation electric motors, quicker charging and longer range — now up to 654 km (406 miles) as measured by the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP). The EV also has a reduced carbon footprint, with some versions purportedly producing up to three tons less CO2 compared to the model released in 2020. Polestar says it uses blockchain technology within its supply chain to expand raw material traceability and address social and environmental issues.
Winner (commercial vehicle): Nikola emphasized recycling when developing its new Tre FCEV (fuel-cell electric vehicle) – 100% of scrap from the production of pre-consumer batteries was recycled and/or reused. In addition, 100% of hazardous waste produced during production was safely recycled, the company claims. A circular reuse program also was implemented for all battery pallets, and the vehicle manufacturing process consumed no water.
Runner-up: Lucid Air has enjoyed the industry and EV-enthusiast accolades for its flagship Lucid Air sedan, which the EV manufacturer claims has broken records for range, charging speeds, aerodynamics and performance. With its core technology designed and engineered in-house, the EV can add 300 miles (483 km) of range with 22 minutes of charging, has an aerodynamic drag coefficient of 0.197, and includes trims with an EPA-estimated range of up to 516 miles (830 km) and energy efficiency of 4.6 miles (7.4 km) per kilowatt-hour.
Winner: ArcelorMittal was recognized for its commitment to using biomass for carbon-neutral steelmaking. Its Port-Cartier pellet plant in Quebec, Canada reportedly became the first in the world to substitute pyrolytic oil for heavy fuel oil on a permanent basis. By using this biofuel, produced locally by BioÉnergie AE Côte-Nord Canada, ArcelorMittal reduces its emissions and builds a regional energy ecosystem utilizing local resources: iron and the forest.
“This is only the first step in the energy transition of mining in Canada. Once we reach full potential, we will be able to reduce our emissions by 200,000 tons per year, thus enabling the production of more-sustainable steel,” an ArcelorMittal representative said at MBS.
Runner-up: Brose introduced a remanufactured, lower-cost e-bike drive that saves 21 kg (46 lb) of carbon emissions per unit, while maintaining quality standards. The process recovers and restores previously sold, worn-out or non-functional products to “like new” conditions and saves materials and costs.
Honorable Mention: Kasai Kogyo’s Kasai Hi-Papia (KHP) material is composed of 100% recycled polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and pure talc. Material scrap from the KHP manufacturing process is reused, and the production system can support different recyclable plastic contents in various regions.
“We see great opportunity within the entire cabin space for interiors,” said Kevin Smart, VP of design engineering at Kasai North America. “Commercial vehicles also are a great application – large commercial trucks and storage areas in work vans, for example.”
Winner: UK-based startup Volteras is building an application programming interface (API) that gives businesses access to EV ecosystem data with a two-week integration that would otherwise take them years to integrate, the company claims. Its products allow organizations to reduce energy waste and emissions, better manage EV fleets and optimize charging using its smart-charging algorithms.
“We are working directly with automakers who are building electric vehicles, as well as those who are building everything that electric vehicles interact with,” Peter Wilson, CEO of Volteras, said in a video acceptance speech. “The idea [with this] data layer…is that businesses can access all the data they need to build new products and services in one singular place.”