Google the term “lightweighting” and you’ll find that the first several pages include links to automotive-related sites and applications, and there’s a great reason for this: lightweighting is a perfect application for an industry that is constantly trying to improve performance and reduce energy consumption and emissions. If you search beyond the first several pages, however, you may begin to see some variations for lightweighting applications, such as aircraft or other vehicles.
But what about non-vehicular- related products? There are plenty of products that move (or are moved), and shouldn’t all things that move be lightweighted? Furthermore, all objects manufactured by additive manufacturing methods should be evaluated and there are also opportunities to reduce the raw stock size for parts that use subtractive techniques. Of course, optimizing resource productivity is only the beginning; let’s take a closer look as to why lightweighting is crucial.
One of the most obvious benefits to lightweighting is increased efficiency. This applies to any transportative vehicle, including air and spacecraft (decreasing vehicle weight by 110 pounds can increase fuel efficiency by 2 percent). Not only is this good engineering practice, but in the case of road vehicles, it is regulated as well; the 2016 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards require that all new model cars and trucks are rated at 35.5 miles per gallon.
The same holds true for motors and actuators driving large industrial equipment. Reducing weight lowers the amount of force required to operate the moving components of the machine which can translate into smaller motors that consume less energy.
Similarly, when any vehicle is lightweighted, there is an improvement in speed, acceleration, maneuverability, mileage, wear and tear and carrying capacity. Additionally, lightweighting can reduce CO2 emissions and tooling costs, especially when replacing steel components with carbon fiber. Beyond vehicles, extreme lightweight materials such as carbon and glass fiber are used in the design of wind turbines to increase blade length while accommodating higher speeds. And reducing weight in industrial equipment can easily result in faster cycle times or additional capacity that have direct impact on operational profitability.
Material use and cost
When lightweighting, it also goes to mention that if done properly, less materials, and therefore less cost is typically realized. There are exceptions, however, when replacing a heavier low cost material with one that is lighter, yet higher priced. It can also be a tactic used towards sustainable design, particularly when it comes to reducing environmental impact and contributing to the “circular economy”. To this end, lightweighting also plays a function in packaging’s move towards a zero waste economy and such initiatives as the Courtauld commitment in the UK.
In the case of carried goods such as luggage and electronics, lightweighting increases ease of use for a product as well as performance, reducing repetitive strain injuries and musculoskeletal disorders.
Furthermore, with such methods used in the manufacture of sports equipment, players can realize an increase performance and enjoyment as clubs, bats and racquets become lighter while helmets, pads and guards become less cumbersome.
Suffice to say that any lightweighting effort can also reduce transportation and shipping costs, but one must be mindful that such costs are no longer calculated based upon weight alone. Newer pricing mechanisms recently adopted by major companies such as UPS, FedEx and DHL use dimensional pricing, which also takes into account the volume of the packaging. Therefore, beyond lightweighting, packaging solutions must also take into account the minimization of package volume to realize cost benefits.
What to make of all this
It should be noted that many of the benefits of lightweighting are tied closely to one another – decrease material cost while increasing energy efficiency and there will be a subsequent increase in product performance.
Lightweighting is one of the cornerstones to any successful incremental innovation management system, and when implemented correctly, will lead to considerable cost savings, increased profitability, reduced environmental impact and customer satisfaction.