The first priority for General Motors engineers working on the Chevy Volt has been to develop a powertrain that makes economic and environmental sense. As my colleague Chuck Murray has been blogging, there has been some controversy over GM’s interesting approach.
The second priority will be to dramatically reduce the vehicle’s weight in second- and third-generation vehicles. The Volt is built on the Chevy Cruze platform and weighs almost 3,800 pounds. The Cruze weighs 2,832 pounds. The reason: the battery package alone weighs 435 pounds, and there is other new gear associated with the Volt’s new powertrain.
Use of aluminum in the engine block to replace iron would be a logical place to start. The lost foam casting process would allow more complex and detailed features to be cast directly into the engine block. A near net shape part would reduce weight even beyond the difference in the weight of the materials. The foam pattern is formed from expandable beads, usually pentane-blown polystyrene. GM now has more than five years’ experience with the lost foam process on engine blocks used in trucks and sports utility vehicles.
The Volt would also be an ideal place to use the composite underbody that GM has been developing as part of the USCAR project. USCAR has reported significant improvements in the manufacturability and quality of fabric-reinforced sections that would replace stamped steel assemblies.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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