Automotive Materials Strategy Workshop

Seminar—Detroit, MI, October 6, 2011 Representatives from leading automobile enterprises gathered on the outskirts of the 'Motor City' last month to discuss some of the materials challenges currently facing the industry. Tier 1 and Tier 2 automotive suppliers joined OEMs, all seeking ways to cut automobile weight and cost, as well as streamline engineering processes in the wake of reorganizations and cutbacks.

Materials selection for car bodies can help to lower costs and weight   Materials information is important for auto components and tires   Materials choice is important for interiors, for aesthetic, cost, and safety reasons   Manage test data and select the right materials for high performance applications

Setting the scene

The session opened by asking 'what holds the key to ongoing success in the automotive industry?' With evermore new and innovative materials coming on to the market—lighter, higher-strength materials including steels, composites, and, increasingly, natural fibers—it might seem that new materials hold the answer. However, participants were aware that inappropriate material substitutions could compromise design requirements and lead to expensive re-tooling or even product recalls. Moreover, the round table discussions that established the day's agenda soon made it clear that some very important issues were not going to be solved by these new innovations alone. In particular:

  • Materials information is difficult to obtain, synchronize, and maintain
  • Knowledge is locked up in local pockets of expertise
  • There is pressure to reduce weight and emissions—without compromising cost and quality

At the center of these challenges is the complex nature of materials data: the type of materials information needed for different systems, components, and applications can vary widely. So the discussion turned to how best to choose a material for a specific purpose, rather just on generic properties. The remainder of the workshop then focused on three specific areas: materials selection and substitution; environmental materials strategy and lightweighting; and integrations with Virtual Product Development (VPD).

Materials Selection and Substitution

For manufacturing companies of all kinds, there are clear benefits from a systematic technique for comparing the performance, cost, and environmental impact of all classes of engineering materials. In a series of three simple case studies, attendees saw how to rapidly identify optimal material solutions in the early stages of product development, including a topical assessment of the effectiveness of natural fibers in automobile panels, illustrated using the highly visual graphical output from CES Selector (pictured). Subsequent discussions emphasized the importance of using the right materials selection tools for the right people, application, and company, based on underlying data which is consistent, traceable, and maintained.

Selecting natural fibers for a car door interior panel

Using CES Selector to provide a highly visual assessment of the benedits of using natural fibers.
Here, the chart is being used to help select the best materials for the interior of a car door panel.

Material substitution is becoming an increasing issue for automotive enterprises. Sometimes this is in response to current materials becoming too expensive, or no longer being available in a particular country. Formulation or composition change can also lead to 'property creep', meaning materials no longer have the right properties for your purpose. More pro-actively, the decision to substitute might come from an anticipated risk of phase out, a desire for dual sourcing, or a cost reduction strategy. Whatever the reason, the presentation demonstrated how a systematic and auditable selection process across the entire product lifecycle can overcome these challenges, and even provide additional opportunities to shorten design cycles, reduce risk, and improve quality.

Environmental Materials Strategy

There is strong pressure on automotive enterprises to 'clean up their act', and improve their environmental performance. This is not just market pressure, but also the need for regulatory compliance, a desire for innovation and growth, competitive pressure, the availability of materials, and the bottom line: cost. To make the biggest difference, you need to make the right decisions early in the design process. This opened a discussion of the work of the Environmental Materials Information Technology (EMIT) Consortium and its emphasis that the environmental impact of a material choice must be looked at across the product's lifecycle. This can be achieved by breaking the lifecycle into discrete phases: material, manufacture, transport, use, and disposal. Performing a rapid audit of the energy and CO2 emissions for each of these phases (as is possible with Granta's Eco Audit Tool) gives designers and engineers insights into the environmental impact of their material choices as they make them, helping to drive cleaner, greener, innovation.

'Environmental Materials Strategy' isn't just about minimizing carbon footprint, but also how you manage restricted substances. Dr Keith Legg, President and founder of Rowan Technology Group—specialists in evaluating and marketing advanced materials and coatings, with a strong focus on environmental and health issues—gave a fascinating introduction to the challenges of working with the ever-growing environmental and restricted substance legislation in his talk on 'knowledge-based anticipation and substitution'. Dr. Legg shared how a web browser based tool may allow you to rapidly find the restricted substance status for a coating, identify potential substitutes, or look up coatings that meet a particular engineering performance, and deliver this information smoothly into the hands of the engineers and designers who need it.  Applying this key 'knowledge', Dr. Legg argued, and integrating performance data, corrosion prediction, and design, can help those in the automotive industry to anticipate and survive in the current climate of increasing environmental legislation. Read a full report of his presentation here 

Integration with Virtual Product Development

Amongst the participants, it was widely felt that the promise of Virtual Product Development (using tools like CAD and CAE) is often hampered by uncontrolled, inconsistent materials data. You need to combine proprietary in-house data with gold-standard reference data in a single, flexible, and easily-managed system. This could allow you to direct approved, traceable information to designers across the organization (and perhaps even the supply chain). Gaining access to this information quickly, easily, and in the right format, is all-important. It was clear, just from the preferences of those present at the workshop, that such a system must be able to interact with a wide range of data-types, as required by users of diverse CAD, CAE, and PLM systems, and enable 'on demand' access through these systems.

Connecting to your corporate materials information from within th familiar Abaqus/CAE environment

Connecting to your corporate materials information from within the familiar Abaqus/CAE environment

Granta provides three ways of achieving the necessary implementations: export and transfer of specially formatted files; interactive Application Programming Interface (API) access; and interactive access via an implantable client "plug-in". Of particular interest at the automotive workshop was the third option, which was demonstrated using the GRANTA MI:Materials Gateway integration with Pro/ENGINEER. This allows designers and engineers to access and apply the information stored within their enterprise-wide materials information management system from within their familiar CAD desktop environment. Furthermore, MI:Materials Gateway also provides a platform for product analytics applications, integrated within CAD, such as Eco-impact assessment, REACH reporting, and cost modeling. Such approaches enable design and simulation engineers to search, assign, and run reports on approved materials more quickly. The company can then be sure the results will be consistent across the enterprise, and that it will be easier to implement corporate environmental strategy.

Conclusions: Materials Technology and Materials Strategy

Many companies are considering 'Materials Strategies' that guide their designers and engineers to make better materials decision, in line with corporate objectives such as minimizing cost while improving environmental performance. Over the course of the day, a picture had been painted of how materials information (and the tools to manage and apply it) are critical to these strategies, helping with:

  • light weighting and cost reduction initiatives in the current climate of reorganization and cutbacks
  • consistent, informed materials decisions, even for those who design, manufacture, and sell products globally
  • ensuring all relevant materials and process information reaches the designers in sufficient time to support effective product decisions
  • working effectively even with, and perhaps even starting to change, a long-established culture of using only familiar materials and keeping knowledge locked up in local pockets of expertise

Granta would like to thank Dr Keith Legg from Rowan Technology Group for his presentation, and are grateful to all the participants for making this an instructive and informative day. If you would like to know more about how Granta can support your organization, please get in touch.