2012 Lightweighting Special: Sona Group banks on R&D

The design developed in-house, in collaboration with Tata, met both its strength and performance requirements.

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 31 May 2012 Views icon4438 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
The Sona Group’s tryst with lightweighting kicked off with Tata Motors’ Nano. The Gurgaon-based component maker that manufactures steering systems used hollow steel tubes instead of solid ones in the manual steering columns and steering gears and tapped finite element analysis (FEA) and computer-aided simulation techniques at the design stage itself.

The design developed in-house, in collaboration with Tata, met both its strength and performance requirements. The focus was not only on lightweighting the manual steering system but also on reducing cost, says KiranDeshmukh, deputy MD of Sona Koyo Steering Systems. Hence, the same material – ferrous steel – was adopted in the tubes as the use of alternate materials for lightweighting is often more expensive and grows component costs.

Redesigning the Maruti Alto’s steering column some years ago was another shot at lightweighting by the Sona Group. Its efforts helped reduce the weight of the steering column by almost 16 to 20 percent, in turn aiding fuel savings. A new design, for which the company has a patent, employs technology that involves use of a collapsible column. In the event of an accident, the impact energy is absorbed by the column instead of being passed onto the driver, thereby reducing the impact on the driver.

This exercise was taken up in response to changing regulatory requirements and Sona redesigned the energy absorption mechanism. This idea has since been implemented in other vehicles as well, according to Deshmukh.

Shedding weight a mission at Sona

The R&D team at Sona is working on some other technologies as well for reducing part weight in steering systems through redesigning the shape and form of mechanical parts, exploring the use of new materials, or through application of electronics instead of mechanical systems.

However, most of the latest work on lightweight manufacturing is at a developmental stage, with several innovations on the drawing board or on testing rigs.

More recently, Sona Koyo had commenced supplies of a new low cost electronic power assist module (EPAM) for an off-highway vehicle manufacturer in North America for applications like golf carts, tractors and ATVs using its indigenous tech. The product has been patented both in India and America and will be later harnessed for applications in agricultural tractors and pick-ups in India.

The module, based on a design that uses frugal engineering, is simple in features and structurally uses fewer parts thus leading to lower fuel consumption. In terms of price, the product can be 20 percent lower in cost than electronic power steering systems.

Sona is also evaluating use of hi-performance engineering plastics, but they are still at the R&D stage. Most of the design work has been initiated in collaboration with OEMs though some work is already underway with educational institutes.

Pressures of improved fuel efficiency and reduced emissions are driving light weighting initiatives and the Sona Group maintains that companies which make products which are light and better in performance will have the upper hand with a strong competitive edge.

SHOBHA MATHUR
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