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8 Benefits of Lightweighting in Manufacturing & Engineering

Lightweighting isn’t a new concept in engineering, but its relevance and importance are evolving. Find out why lightweighting matters today and how you can maximize its potential benefits by applying the latest developments in engineering design technology.

nTopology
January 27, 2022

The relevance and importance of lightweighting continue to increase as governments ramp up their sustainability efforts and the use of advanced manufacturing technologies (particularly additive manufacturing) becomes more commonplace.

“Doing more, with less” is the primary purpose of lightweighting, but the benefits of lightweighting extend beyond material reduction. A lighter design can reap numerous benefits during the design phase and when the final product is in use.

This article will explore some of the most notable benefits of lightweighting across various applications. But first, let’s take a closer look at what lightweighting is and its relevance today.

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What is Lightweighting?

Lightweighting refers to removing material from an assembly or part to reduce its weight. This goal can be achieved in one of two ways:

  • Material substitution: This involves replacing traditional materials with alternative lightweight materials, that maintain a sufficient strength-to-weight ratio, to deliver incremental gains
  • Design changes: This involves making fundamental changes to the design that deliver more extensive performance gains

Lightweighting is useful where there is any motion associated with a product.

All motion needs energy, whether exerted by an engine, a person, or an actuator — the less energy required to generate the appropriate motion, the more efficient the product.

Automobiles, trains, rockets, and planes are the most obvious lightweighting use cases, but lightweighting also applies to consumer products, medical devices, and various other products.

Evolving Lightweighting Targets

Lightweighting is often described as “trending,” primarily because it has gained increased attention in recent years due to significant advancements in lightweighting technologies. But is lightweighting a new concept? Absolutely not.

Lattice structures are a light yet strong alternative to traditional materials that can provide additional benefits — like increased impact absorption or vibration control.

Lightweighting and the use of lightweight materials have been a requirement of manufacturing ever since humans began to manufacture. However, one might describe lightweighting as an evolving term.

What we once considered to be “light” has quickly become old news. And this trend will continue, arguably indefinitely, as our manufacturing capabilities advance.

This means that lightweighting will always be relevant but that the nature of its relevance may change as our requirements change. So why is lightweighting important today?

Why Does Lightweighting Matter Today?

Additive Manufacturing

Lightweighting is a requirement for additive production because of its part in ensuring cost-efficiency. But it is also facilitated by additive manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing enables engineers to create lightweight structures that would be impossible to create with alternative processes. The evolution of industrial additive manufacturing today — combined with generative design — unlocks many new lightweighting opportunities.

Custom 3D printed cast created in nTopology — these lightweight casts provide increased patient comfort and are more hygienic

Sustainability

Taking steps to minimize the impact of climate change is becoming increasingly important for governments worldwide, particularly as awareness of global environmental concerns grows. This puts increased pressure on designers and manufacturers across every industry to reduce their carbon emissions and create products that are more environmentally friendly.

Lightweighting is integral to improving the sustainability of manufacturing processes because it reduces greenhouse gas emissions, the amount of waste sent to landfills, and the use of finite resources. It also improves energy efficiency by reducing the energy consumed by mining and processing materials.

Electric Vehicles (EVs)

Making the shift from manual vehicles to EVs is a priority for many countries, as part of their sustainability goals, and it is expected that there will be a significant increase in EVs in the coming years.

In 2021, the UK confirmed that it will require all vehicles to be “zero-emissions capable” by 2035. California has similar intentions and will require all light-duty autonomous vehicles to emit zero greenhouse gas emissions from 2030.

However, despite many EV models being available to consumers, uptake has been slow, in part because many of the more affordable vehicles lack the range to accommodate lengthy journeys. Lightweighting is crucial to reducing the weight of automotive components, which can considerably improve the range of EVs.

Benefits of Lightweighting

Improved Performance

Lightweight components typically offer performance advantages. The most obvious example of this is in the automotive industry. The vehicle lightweighting process can improve maneuverability, acceleration, and carrying and mileage capacity.

Lighter vehicles also experience reduced component wear and tear, and usually offer better fuel economy. For instance, a 10% reduction in vehicle weight can result in a 6%-8% improvement in fuel economy.

In aerospace, reducing the structural weight of an aircraft can improve efficiency. The Boeing 787, for example, was made 20% lighter, which increased fuel economy by 10-12%. In the case of the Boeing 787-9, which burns approximately 5,400 litres of fuel per hour, a 10-12% improvement in fuel economy amounts to 540-650 litres saved per hour.

Superior Products

In the consumer products industry, lightweighting can give organizations a competitive edge by delivering significant ergonomic, sustainability, and performance advantages.

For instance, the global Carbon Fiber Tennis Racket market is anticipated to rise at a considerable rate between 2021 and 2027, as athletes become more aware of the several advantages of using lightweight and sustainable materials like carbon fiber to design tennis rackets.

Not only do carbon composites deliver an improved strength-to-weight ratio, allowing the rackets to be lighter, but they also enable the distribution of weight around the racket to be managed much more precisely.

Expanded Product Functionality

Lightweighting allows engineers to design products of a certain weight but with expanded functionality. For instance, there is significant demand in the automotive industry for modern vehicles to be made with larger cabins without increasing their weight.

Expanded product functionality is also likely to afford companies a notable competitive edge in the market.

3D printed car seat — this design is both lightweight and allows for additional cushion customization (Source: Digital Trends)

Improved Ergonomics

In many industries, the lighter an item, the more ergonomic it is. Lighter sports equipment like hockey sticks, for instance, reduce athlete fatigue and can improve their performance and comfort.

Improved ergonomics is also pertinent to the medical devices industry, where the user’s comfort can directly impact their performance, and the stakes are especially high.

Reduced Manufacturing Costs

Lighter parts typically require less material, which reduces the costs associated with material purchase and manufacturing.

44.3% of costs in the manufacturing sector are material costs. This means that a 10% lighter design reduces the manufacturing cost on average by more than 4%.

These figures demonstrate that a slight decrease in the amount of material required for a design can result in considerable cost savings when the product is manufactured at scale.

Improved Fuel Economy

The potential to improve fuel economy is perhaps the most cited lightweighting benefit. In the automotive industry, if you were to reduce vehicle weight by just 10%, you can improve fuel efficiency by up to 3%.

In the aerospace industry, removing 1 kilogram of material from an airplane can save 106 kilograms of jet fuel each year and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

KW Generator created in nTopology for aerospace application — housing weight reduced by 44%

Reduced Transportation & Packaging Costs

Lighter alternatives typically cost less to package and transport, because fewer packaging materials are required to ensure the product’s safety in transit.

Products with lower overall weight also improve safety, because they are easier to handle, which can be important for heavy equipment — like this 3-foot long cast robot arm.

Improved Sustainability

The reduction in environmental impact achieved by applying lightweighting technology can be significant. Lighter components minimize waste, the use of finite resources, and energy consumption during the manufacturing process — ultimately driving down carbon footprint and improving energy savings.

Intelligent and strategic lightweighting design presents invaluable opportunities for the future of sustainability initiatives. The part it plays in optimizing electric vehicles for mass use and reducing the environmental footprint of air travel, for example, is critical.

Choosing the Right Tool For Lightweighting

Maximizing the advantages of lightweighting requires a specialist solution. nTopology is the only engineering design software that enables engineers to combine the various lightweighting techniques — such as topology optimization, latticing, and conformal ribbing — in a streamlined, repeatable, and efficient way.

For lightweighting purposes, nTopology is quite simply unmatched. Leading companies worldwide depend on it to develop revolutionary products in the automotive, aerospace, medical, and consumer products industries.

Find out more about lightweighting with nTopology or download our free Engineering Guide to Lightweighting.

 

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