Lightweight Design worldwide

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 12–17 | Cite as

Project Next Generation Car

  • Michael Schäffer
  • Gerhard Kopp
  • Horst E. Friedrich
Cover Story Automobile Construction


Topology Optimisation Shape Optimisation Differential Construction Product Development Process Sheet Metal Part 
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At the Institute of Vehicle Concepts of the DLR measures are being investigated for reducing mass by adjusting optimisation strategies for the design and the principal component requirements. On the basis of a selected optimisation strategy, a sill structure is being improved both for specific energy absorption and intrusion into the passenger compartment.

The term lightweight has a very high priority in vehicle development today. The objective of lightweight construction is to meet the requirements that legislators and customers have set for vehicles (e.g. vehicle safety, driving comfort, fuel consumption, costs) at minimal mass. Considering the total energy consumption of vehicles it has been shown that up to 2/3 of this is massd ependent [1]. Thus, a low vehicle mass is an essential factor in helping to reduce the energy consumption of a car.

In the Next Generation Car (NGC) research field at the German Aerospace Center, research into the conceptual design of three new vehicles of the future is in progress. The technological developments are oriented towards the 2030 to 2040 time interval. The objective of this is the crosslinking of different technologies, methods and tools for the holistic development of vehicles of the future in terms of vehicle design, vehicle structure, power and thermal management, vehicle intelligence and power train, Figure 1.
Figure 1

Research structure of the Next Generation Car (NGC) project with its six working groups: vehicle design, vehicle structure, energy management, power train, mechatronic chassis, vehicle intelligence (left) and the three vehicle concepts named Urban Modular Vehicle (UMV), Safe Light Regional Vehicle (SLRV) and Interurban Vehicle (IUA) (right), see also [2] (© DLR)

In order to be able to derive concrete research questions, three basic vehicle concepts have been defined and formulated as follows: Urban Modular Vehicle (UMV) is a flexible urban electric vehicle with a modular and multimaterial construction, the Interurban Vehicle (IUA) is distinguished by its long distance comfort, comfortable interior and a body consisting predominantly of fibre-reinforced plastic materials and the Safe Light Regional Vehicle (SLRV) is a light and safe L7e class fuel cell vehicle with an aluminium foam sandwich monocoque construction.

With regard to the vehicle structure, all three vehicle concepts have a common objective of implementing a lightweight, but at the same time safe, body structure.

To achieve the goals of being light and crashproof, the importance of simulation methods and structural optimisation processes continues to increase. It is imperative to systematically incorporate these methods and procedures into the product development process, also in the light of the ever shorter product life cycles which, for example, for the VW Golf model (vehicle generation 1 to 7) has been more than halved [3].

Optimisation Strategies and Procedures

To achieve an optimal structural design with minimal mass and the required properties, a holistic view of materials, manufacturing technology and construction methods is needed [4].

This “lightweight construction trialogue” represents a particular challenge that can be supported by using optimisation techniques. By applying this method, it is possible to significantly reduce the number of manual iterations during product development and create a design that already meets the requirements in the concept phase.

Structural optimisation tasks can be divided according to their corresponding design parameters into [5]:
  • ▸ choice of construction method

  • ▸ choice of material properties

  • ▸ topology optimisation

  • ▸ shape optimisation

  • ▸ sizing.

If this subdivision of structural optimisation tasks is considered in connection with the lightweight trialogue, an overview is created of the possible variation parameters during a product development process, Figure 2.
Figure 2

Design parameters in the product development phase divided according to the lightweight trialogue — separate and extended display according to [6] (© DLR)

At the beginning of a development process, the design and material selection are determined mainly by using technical feasibility studies or cost analyses. Based on the projected sales, material costs and existing manufacturing plants, amongst other things, the least expensive variant needs to be determined in terms of design and material for each of the respective vehicle components [6].

In the further course of the development process, the topology optimisation in particular plays a major role in the initial and concept phase. This is used to describe the basic arrangement and number of structural elements. The most common topology optimisation is linearstatic topology optimisation, but there are also approaches that allow a non-linear topology optimisation. These are, for example, the “Hybrid Cellular Automaton” (HCA), which has a uniformly distributed energy density as a target function, or the “Graph and Heuristic based Topology optimisation” (GHT), which was specifically developed for extrusion profiles.

Even at this early stage of development, a manufacturing technology can already be considered in the topology optimisation process. Especially casting, forging and extrusion manufacturing constraints are implemented in the most common software packages. If the production technology is not limited by existing production facilities, a production technology selection also takes place in addition to the joining technology selection.

To bring the concept design optimally in line with the package, the shape optimisation takes place in the concept phase. This can be done either by empirical studies (studies of profile geometries) or with an optimisation process. For series development, dimensioning optimisations are almost exclusively performed. These are carried out on the one hand on the components themselves, but also on the joining technology between adjacent components, on the manufacturing influences on the mechanical behaviour and the production itself, Figure 2.

Due to the variety of possible combinations, an analysis of the optimisation methods and strategies currently in use for lightweight structures is presented in the following section. As one of the first steps in the development of new components is to define the method of construction, the optimisation strategies found in the literature are systematically categorised by the different construction methods (integral, differential, composite and hybrid design).

Analysis Strategies

In order to perform an analysis and draw conclusions, the optimisation strategies need to be clustered into different groups. At the overall vehicle level, a division into body, chassis, power train and interior is chosen for this purpose, Figure 3. Here, the percentage breakdown into the main groups shows a distribution pattern similar to their shares in the total mass of an average middleclass vehicle with a combustion engine (body 39 %, drive train 23 %, chassis 16 %, interior 16 % and electronics 6 %) [7]. This distribution pattern shows that optimisation activities primarily take place at mass-intensive areas of the vehicle.
Figure 3

Percentage of optimisation strategies employed divided according to body, chassis, power train and interior as well as the breakdown of the body according to different construction methods (© DLR)

One concept for the reduction of CO2 emissions from motor vehicles is, apart from alternative propulsion technologies (such as batteryelectric drive systems), to make weight savings, especially in the body. Innovative solutions are required for this, solutions with a high potential for lightweight construction. It is precisely this trend that is visible when the main “body” group is broken down according to the various construction methods.

More than 50 % of the optimisation strategies investigated deal with the structural component optimisation of innovative lightweight construction methods, as they represent hybrid construction, composite construction and sandwich construction. The nominally largest share is still held by the differential construction method (36 %) most commonly used in current production vehicles. As an example, a strategy for a differential construction method is considered, Figure 4.
Figure 4

Generalised optimisation strategy for components in differential construction, according to [12] (© DLR)

The opportunity for innovative solutions that lead to mass reduction lies in structural optimisation with differentiated strategies.

The difficulty with this construction method is the implementation of the results from the topology optimisation in a meaningful structure in differential construction. There are various approaches for this. From implementation by experience and knowledge [8], through the use of construction and regulation catalogues [9] to a softwarebased solution [10], which enables automatic derivation.

Shape optimisation and dimensioning follow the CAD implementation, usually taking manufacturing constraints into consideration, particularly for sheet metal parts. In this step, it is important to optimise the joining technology so as to reduce weight and process costs. An exemplary approach for optimising pointshaped joints with sheet metal parts is described in [11].

The procedure described is represented in an abstract way in the first step and must inevitably be adjusted and detailed. An important role is played here by the requirements or the target function according to which the body component should be optimised. Depending on these component-specific target functions, the appropriate procedure, for example, for topology optimisation can be chosen. The same is true when selecting the method in the subsequent shape optimisation (empirical, geometrybased shape optimisation, netbased shape optimisation).

Every vehicle body consists of a variety of components with different target functions. These varieties are shown using the example of the NGC UMV, Figure 5. Represented is a design with an fixed b-pillar, which will be integrated into the doors. The body results for this example is the sum of a total of seven categories that all fulfil a particular function and thus a target function or where the target function can be optimised:
  • ▸ Structures of the passenger compartment require high strength to guarantee the survival space of the occupants.

  • ▸ Stiffness structures are mainly cross beams in the roof and rear area, which are characterised by a high moment of inertia to give the body the necessary rigidity.

  • ▸ The structure nodes that are located primarily in the area of the A- and C-pillars mainly have the task of connecting as many adjacent structures as possible.

  • ▸ Energy absorbing structures are used primarily to reduce the energy in the event of a crash. They are found in both the front and rear of the chassis but also in the sill area.

  • ▸ Shear panels mainly increase the torsional rigidity of the structure and are therefore relevant to the driving dynamics of the vehicle.

  • ▸ The outer skin structures and mounting parts are designed for specific concerns such as dents or a class A surface finish.

  • ▸ Doors and closures both have ergonomic requirements, but are also relevant components for passive safety.

Figure 5

Aspects of lightweight construction and optimisation objectives in the various application areas of a car body, exemplary representation using the NGC UMV concept (© DLR, separate display according to [13])

NGC UMV Side Crash Concept

For the structures in the crash relevant and energy absorbing region, a structure optimisation strategy for an energy absorbing structure in the form of a sill, including the underlying crash absorber, is shown as an example.

Load path analyses, dimensioning, and shape optimisations, among others, are applied for the side crash concept of the UMV, when designing the bodywork floor concept to increase the crash performance in the event of a side impact against a pole. The concept consists of a sill profile with underlying energy absorbing aluminium trapezoidal sandwich panels, Figure 6, which, by buckling, convert the kinetic energy into deformation energy.
Figure 6

Load path representation during a side impact against a pole (a), Representation of the cross section sill and sandwich crash absorber and the load transfer (b), Example of a sandwich crash absorber with trapezoidal core (c) [14] (© DLR)

To optimise the sandwich crash absorber, a strategy was systematically selected, which applies a “morphing” method to adapt the geometry, so as to identify the main factors influencing the energy absorption by buckling of the sandwich core and to find an optimal combination of the parameters investigated, Figure 7.
Figure 7

Systematically selected optimisation strategy for the trapezoidal sandwich energy absorber of the NGC UMV concept (© DLR)

To illustrate the influence that both sheet plates have on the level of efficiency, the ratio (η = tCore / tFacesheet) of both parameters is entered. This ratio has a major effect on the failure behaviour of the trapezoidal sandwich absorber, Figure 8. If the ratio is small (η = 0.25), the result is a global Euler buckling. In contrast, a large ratio (η = 2.0) leads to stable buckling, which is preferable for a high energy absorption and a high efficiency.
Figure 8

Influence of the sheet thickness ratio of outer layers and core on the absorption efficiency [14] (© DLR)

By applying the optimisation strategy, Figure 7, the specific energy absorption could be improved by 24 % and the intrusion by ~30 % compared with the initial design from crash test (compare also [2]).

Conclusion and Outlook

The opportunity for innovative solutions for body construction that lead to mass reduction lies in structural optimisation with differentiated strategies. These must be specifically adapted for the design and objective function of the components. The strategy described for the sill structure investigated improves both the specific energy absorption and the intrusion into the passenger compartment.

More possibilities are seen in particular in the application of optimisation strategies in the area of shear panels, such as the end wall. Here even more potential is found, since the use of specific optimisation possibilities, for example, for composite sandwich structures is not yet fully exploited and applied. The challenge with optimising lies in particular in the large number of optimisation parameters, the combined load types and the location of the component within the body. The location in particular poses major challenges since, especially for the optimisation of crash load cases, the calculation time required during the optimisation must also be considered.


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Copyright information

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Schäffer
    • 1
  • Gerhard Kopp
    • 1
  • Horst E. Friedrich
    • 1
  1. 1.DLRStuttgartGermany

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