Lightweight Design worldwide

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 6–11 | Cite as

Lightweight Wheel Disc with Carbon Aluminium Foam Sandwich

  • Alexander Hackert
  • Sascha Müller
  • Lothar Kroll
Cover Story Automobile Construction


Aluminium Foam Metal Foam Foam Core Metallic Foam Technology Demonstrator 
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Harmful emissions from motor vehicles can be lowered by combining new process technologies with smart material systems a direct optimisation of technical systems. In the automotive application as a wheel a direct improvement in driving characteristics is also achieved by reducing the unsprung weight. Through the focused utilisation of material-side benefits in the composite material, the lightweight construction wheel puts a symmetric sandwich with aluminium foam core and cover layers made of thermoplastic fibre-reinforced plastics as a structural element in application.

The specific combination of different materials and the associated manufacturing process for production of a functional hybrid network enables the fulfillment of increasingly complex requirements for components used in mechanical, economic and ecological characteristics. Therefore, such hybrid systems are currently of high scientific and industrial interest and earn in many technical applications increasingly important. Especially in the automotive industry such multi-material construction methods are increasingly used, while the combination of thermoplastic FRP with metal foams in volume has special lightweight potentials. Highly porous, metallic foams, such as aluminium foam, having very high mechanical properties at low density and an enormous energy absorption capacity and are also characterised by a distinct damage tolerance. In combination with thermoplastic FRP as the top layer and the metallic foam core a sandwich structure can be economically produced in mixed construction and according the extreme lightweight requirements, Figure 1.
Figure 1

Sandwich composite with aluminium foam core and carbon-fibre-reinforced thermoplastic cover layers (© TU Chemnitz)

Configuration and Preparation of the Composite Sandwich Structure

For the wheel disc of a car wheel has a sandwich built-up in this way a very high performance. As a bending claimed structural element it is a central part of the component stiffness and also offers excellent potential for lightweight construction. For the production of this component, the boundary conditions in the manufacturing process and a precise knowledge of the material behaviour of the individual materials and the combination of materials are required. Therefore, the structure of the material composite and the technology have been investigated for the preparation and then verified with respect to the automotive application.

The stage thermoformed composite core for the hub of the three-piece lightweight wheel is manufactured near net shape. The semi-finished thermoplastics of the top layers are thereby pressed in one process step to the closed cell core. A special feature is the combination of measures, to counteract adhesion failures before and during manufacturing process. Initially, the aluminium foam core with a very thin and closed outer side, the interface to the outer layers, allows a chemical or mechanical modification to improve the bond strength. In the use of carbon fibres as a reinforcement of the top layers further an additional buffering layer is applied on the interface with glass fibre reinforcement, which harmonises the high gradient of the mechanical characteristics of all the individual materials. Nevertheless while the production with the thermal pressing method, particularly in the cooling phases high residual stresses occurs. By a drastic increase in pressure, these are intensified, which further contributes as the pretension to an improvement in performance.

Application as a Wheel Disc

All geometric constraints of a large scale series reference wheel in size 5.5J x 14, with a weight of approximately 6.8 kg, and the interface to the wheel hub with the boreholes for the screw connection of the wheel disc as well as relevant load scenarios were based in the dimensioning. The lightweight wheel, Figure 2, is symmetrically built up with identical wheel rings as inner and outer rim. The hub for the three-piece lightweight construction wheel has a total of four circumferentially spaced trapezoidal openings, which serve as a design element and for the ventilation of the brake system. The areas of the screw connection for the rim rings are provided in the sandwich construction with metal sleeves that just as the attachment points are inserted as a load application element and centering in the core structure in the area of the hub connection. In addition, load-path oriented fibre layers are in addition to the fibre reinforcement arranged in a loop shape between the circumferentially integrated load application elements in the surface layers. The conceptual structure shown in Figure 2 of the lightweight wheel shows the arrangement of the elements in the overall assembly; the wheel disc is taken as an integral part of a single-stage production process.
Figure 2

Concept design of the lightweight wheel (© TU Chemnitz)

Simplified Simulation of Circular Bending

The civil use and their regulatory handling of wheels for passenger cars on public roads are governed by various national and international regulations. As safety-related component of the suspension geometry a wheel must bear especially the abuse load cases and need to have also in the subsequently caused damage a residual functionality. The load cases are based on scenarios such as the larger potholes or the curb driving and the impact of strong load cycles at the maximum load. The inspections to be carried are specified for the various wheel concepts. Multipiece wheels with demountable rim have in addition to material testing, and a corrosion test, a circular bending test, a rolling test, an impact test and an Alternating to be subjected.

The wheel was initially analysed for the three directions of load at maximum load.

While the rolling and the impact tests at today’s relevant environments are performed with mounted tires, the circular bending is in addition to the alternating torsion tests an important component test procedure for a wheel without a tire, in which the side forces are simulated, which act in a turn on the wheel.

Static Bending

For the conceptual preliminary design and the simulation investigations it is provided to simplify the circular bending stress into a two-dimensional bending in three different planes, which are inclined to each other 22.5°, due as a static load. Figure 3 shows the selected alignment of loads on red (FZ1, FZ2, FZ3), which applies circulating for the complete wheel geometry.
Figure 3

Selected alignment of loads to simplify a circular bending (© TU Chemnitz)

As for the real circulating bending test according to ECE R124 the inner rim ring is firmly clamped at the horn. The load is applied in each case via a net-like modeled arm with an infinitely rigid hub connection.

Based on the design concept developed variant, it was possible to convert a multi-dimensional dataset in use a suitable computing system as a simulation model. Figure 4 shows the networked model for static pseudo simulation of circulating bending test with a modeled as a solid hub terminal and the network geometry for load application.
Figure 4

Oversized illustration of the network geometry resulting FZ3 (45°) for the static simulation of the circulating bending test (© TU Chemnitz)

By choosing a macroscopic approach, the outer layers of the core network are set up as a shell element and are material-configured with eight unidirectional continuous fibre-reinforced individual layers, which are stacked with different fibre orientation over the other. The buffer layer which was integrated while the preliminary studies to minimise the manufacturing associated residual stresses will neglect and a layer structure with each at 45° to each other twisted fibre orientations implemented. Because the area around the hub terminal near the clamping point can be expected with the occurrence of high stresses, three more individual layers are additionally provided to simulate a local reinforcement and thus corresponding to a load-oriented and graded structure at this location.

Results of the Simulation

Initially the wheel was analysed for the three directions of load at maximum load. In the circulating bending of the concept for the wheel disc can be assumed that the stresses are transferable occur the three tested directions on the overall geometry. The next in rotational angle steps of 22.5° arranged load directions, Figure 3, arise due to the circulating repeating geometry a strain for a complete rotation of the bend, the cyclical sequence is shown with the maximum tensile and compressive stresses in Figure 5. The major burden gets investigated geometry at all loads in the area of inner spokes connection near the hub terminal. In this case affects spoke mainly lying in the direction of force. If the areas of the spoke geometry directly in the plane of the load introduction FZ3, so occurs the lowest stress, while the largest, about 20 % higher stress with a load transfer between the relevant spokes (FZ1 und FZ2) occurs. In the dynamic load case a cyclic loading is expected.
Figure 5

Stress chart for the cover layers within a complete rotation of the bend (© TU Chemnitz)

As for the real circulating bending test according to ECE R124 the inner rim ring is firmly clamped at the horn.

Manufacturing of a Technology Demonstrator

A generic technology demonstrator was build up for visualisation of the wheel concept, to represent the developments and findings of the preliminary investigation, the bending tests, the concept design and the component simulation in summary for further development of a series component, Figure 6. As has already been fixed in the construction elaboration, as inner and outer rim two identical purchased parts are used. The wheel disc shall implement as a plate-shaped sandwich in the dimensions of the concept design in mixed construction. The final assembled prototype of the concept wheel has a weight of 3.02 kg, which is significantly lighter than the reference wheel.
Figure 6

Sandwich composite lightweight wheel with aluminium foam core and carbon-fibre-reinforced thermoplastic cover layers (© TU Chemnitz)

Summary and Outlook

Both the preliminary investigations and the performed work at the core composites in preparation for an application as a wheel disk of a wheel for an automotive application have demonstrated the enormous potential property in view of the use as claimed bending, plate-shaped component. Especially the high energy absorption of this construction for use as a design agent for ostensibly bending and impact stress components made of composite materials designates. In addition, the different versions of the interface modification show a direct influence on the subsequent failure image, while the production is essential for assignment to a possible manufacturing strategy as a mixed and hybrid composite. Especially for lightweight applications in the automotive mass production are multi-material designs of high interest wherein the compound of thermoplastic fibre-reinforced plastics with metal has particularly for high volume applications special lightweight construction potential. The combination as a core composite in hybrid and mixed construction was examined for the first time on a series suitability and thereby verified as a sandwich structure with a functionally graded structure and a new manufacturing technology.

As a result, the development of the core composite structure for a lightweight construction wheel in the described design could protect legally registered as utility models (DE 20 2014 005 111 U1) and a patent (DE 10 2014 009 180 A1) by the German Patent and Trademark Office. The application for protection refers wheels with an inner and an outer rim and a center wheel disk, which are interconnected. The wheels are characterised especially by their low weight. The center wheel disk in a symmetrical sandwich construction material is a composite of a closed metal foam core between layers of thermoplastic fibre-reinforced composites.

Circular Bending Test According to ECE R124

For the circular bending test according to ECE R124 the inner rim is clamped to a base plate of a testing device, while a revolving bending moment is introduced through a load beam in a defined length at the hub of the wheel connection surface. The torque is generated by a tumbling weight around the rotational axis. For a test to obtain an authorisation on the public a total of four wheels must be examined. The test provides different scenarios for aluminium wheels of the vehicle class M1. For the short-term test, the wheel is stressed with 75 % of the maximum bending moment in 2·105 load cycles games, while the long-term test, only 50 % of the maximum bending moment at 18·105 load cycles stipulates whose frequency should be as high as possible, but outside the complex resonance frequency. The wheel should not show a technical incipient crack and is allowed to have increased by less than 10 % load beam displacement against the determined shift after about 10.000 cycles. The allowed reduction of the tightening torque applied to the wheel studs shall not exceed 30 % [ECE R124].



This work was performed within the Federal Cluster of Excellence EXC 1075 “MERGE Technologies for Multifunctional Lightweight Structures” and supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Financial support is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexander Hackert
    • 1
  • Sascha Müller
    • 1
  • Lothar Kroll
    • 1
  1. 1.Technische Universität ChemnitzChemnitzGermany

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