Hermann Althoff

BASF's senior vice-president (engineering plastics) Asia-Pacific speaks to Brian de Souza on its contribution towards lightweighting and on striking a balance with vehicle safety.

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 10 May 2010 Views icon5358 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

What steps is BASF taking to lightweight automotive parts that OEMs buy?
Initially, plastic parts were largely confined to vehicle interiors. Today, thanks to major advances in polymer engineering, they are found everywhere. BASF was instrumental in developing alternatives to metal, e.g. the development of the one-piece intake manifold for Porsche in the early 1970s which was made from polyamide (Ultramid), and devoted considerable resources to adapting the fusible (or lost) core technique – the plastics equivalent of metal casting – required to mould this highly complex part. Since then, Ultramid, a glass-fibre reinforced polyamide 6.6, has proven its worth in countless automobiles and has become the 'material of choice' for an application with tough requirements regarding temperatures, mechanical loads and chemical resistance. In fact, every third car in the world has a plastic air intake manifold made of Ultramid. Since then, we have pioneered the development of the first plastic oil sump for trucks, the first engine hoodliner made from melamine resin foam, and many more. As a major plastics supplier with a wealth of experience in polymer engineering, we believe that the key to successful development is to be active from the start – developing the necessary resins, improving the moulding technology, assisting our customers in the design and optimisation of parts.
What were the challenges that BASF faced when you made the air intake manifold for the Nano?
Developing products for the low-cost car was a challenge that required BASF to develop tailor-made products and processes that focus on the specific needs of Tata Motors. For the Nano project, this involved drawing together experts from the worldwide BASF network to create synergies that fostered innovations. For the air intake manifold, in addition to the material BASF provided development support ranging from computer simulation studies in the initial design phase to component tests in the trial phase, carried out at BASF’s engineering plastics technical centres in Germany and India.
How has Ultrasim helped introduce lightweight products for the auto sector?
Ultrasim stands for BASF’s entire competence in cutting-edge CAE (computer-aided engineering) methods for developing innovative automotive parts made of BASF engineering plastics. This evaluation of component concepts on a virtual basis starts with the material, continues with the manufacturing process and goes all the way to the finished part – Ultrasim has not only the means to calculate the component properly but also to pave the way to the correctly designed part. Components can be quickly and reliably configured with an eye towards specific load-related factors such as strength or crash behaviour.In recent years, BASF has expanded the added value of its applications technology for each phase of the parts development. Ultrasim now covers not only the so-called integrative simulation but also mathematical parts optimisation, topological optimisation and design optimisation including morphing. With Ultrasim sophisticated automotive parts made of thermoplastics can be developed very efficiently.With its capability for precise and highly accurate prediction of engineering plastics parts behaviour, Ultrasim enables new applications, especially highly stressed parts, crash relevant parts, design of highly complex parts and optimisation of parts for low weight. This is also reducing cost as a more lightweight part uses fewer raw materials.Ultrasim offers several advantages: many different design variants can be investigated, optimum amount of material determined, and processing weak spots can be identified and rectified before production even commences.
What is the potential for lightweighting that the Indian market offers?
Indian car producers have a large potential to reduce the weight of vehicles and reduce production cost by using more engineering plastics. Lower weight is a very important development target as it also reduces fuel consumption and emissions. In Europe cars use an average of 20kg of polyamide. For example the VW Golf uses 25kg and the BMW 1-series 28kg. The amount of such specialised plastics found, in particular in the engine compartment, is a measure of how advanced a particular plastics market is. In comparison, in India cars use an average of less than 5kg. This shows there is a high potential for Indian car producers to substitute metal with engineering plastics.
While lightweighting is a key aspect for improving fuel efficiency, how does one strike a balance with vehicle safety aspects?
Cars are becoming steadily heavier, e.g. due to numerous fittings for the safety of occupants and pedestrians, yet fuel consumption is expected to fall dramatically. The solution to these contradictory requirements is lightweight construction using plastics. A car seat must meet the highest safety requirements as also comfort and reduction of costs and weight. Improvements in the production process, use of innovative materials, and new methods in the development process are essential. BASF has shown that it is possible to make a seat pan out of engineering plastics (thereby replacing metal) which makes seats lighter by about 40 percent and saves up to 25 percent cost as one shot injection moulding replaces up to 22 assembly steps for steel seat pans while fulfilling all safety requirements.To address pedestrian safety, BASF developed the Lower Bumper Stiffener (LBS) in cooperation with Opel. This specially designed structure yields in a defined manner, the impact energy is absorbed and this enhances the protection of pedestrians. The LBS is proof that today plastic parts likely to be subjected to stress in a crash can only be designed efficiently when, on the one hand, the material is sufficiently rigid and nevertheless absorbs a lot of energy and, on the other hand, its behaviour in a crash can be precisely described by means of sophisticated CAE software. BASF is now able to offer under the brand name Ultramid CR a group of polyamides which, with the aid of its Ultrasim, are exactly matched to the demands imposed on components in the event of a crash. n

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