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Structural Foam Hybrid Body Panels Enable Significant Vehicle Weight Reduction

    July 31, 2019

Vehicle lightweighting is a continuing pursuit for automotive designers. What started as a way to reduce emissions has become an imperative as automakers (OEMs) continuously innovate to remove even more weight to make way for battery packs that power battery electric vehicles (BEVs). With the skateboard design used for most BEVs, battery packs run nearly the length of the passenger cabin and weigh between 600 – 800 kg, or 1,323 – 1,764 lbs. The trick is to remove weight from vehicle structures without compromising on tensile strength and impact safety standards.

Example of skateboard design

Structural inserts from Henkel are designed to enable significant weight reduction while maintaining structural integrity and crash safety standards. Created in two- or three-dimensional parts, Henkel’s structural inserts are based on a combination of fiber reinforced plastics and specially developed high-performance structural foam.

The structural foam expands during e-coat-over to create a stiff connection between the new structure – referred to as a hybrid structure because it is made of the structural insert material and a metal – and other components of the body-in-white (BiW) vehicle unit.

Designing vehicles at the BiW phase with structural inserts can lead to significant weight savings that deliver crash test performance equivalent to steel alone. This enables OEMs to downgauge the use of steel without compromising on safety and overall material performance. Within the BEV market, the application of structural inserts enables significant weight savings as well as cost reduction for vehicle structural components, especially those designed to prevent the battery from intrusion on all sides in the event of a crash. Incorporating structural inserts during the vehicles design phans enables OEMs to realize the maximum benefit of these high-strength, lightweight solutions.

To continue to innovate to address the vehicle lightweighting imperative, Henkel has partnered with global engineering firm, RLE International, to create “The Mobility Alliance,” a strategic partnership that brings together Henkel’s material science capabilities and RLE’s engineering expertise to shape the next generation of structural insert solutions. Through the Alliance, advanced simulation capabilities are used to produce and place structural inserts exactly where they will be best optimized in the BiW phase for material stiffness and crash protection while maximizing weight-saving potential.

Potential for lightweighting with hybrid designs using high performance structural foam in body and closure panels.

A joint study conducted by Henkel and RLE to investigate the possibilities of further automotive lightweighting in body and closure parts has revealed that about 40kg (88.2 lbs.) of weight per vehicle can be saved if conventional all-metal components are replaced by hybrid designs using high-performance structural foam. The approach leverages the synergy of a specially developed lightweight structural foam technology from Henkel in combination with advanced engineering design by RLE International. And, extensive crash simulations have validated the concept. To learn more about the study, download the white paper at the Henkel Smart Chemistry Hub.

About the Author, David Caro

David Caro is Head of Global Engineering Transport and Metal SBU at Henkel and has more than 20 years of international experience in automotive. After joining Henkel in 2001, he held roles in the company’s operations in North America, Germany and Spain. David has degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Polytechnic University of Barcelona and in Business Administration from IESE Business School, University of Navarra.

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