Innovations in lightweighting, connectivity and electrification dominated this year’s automotive category. Andrew wade reports.
ACRIM-Wheel was an R&D proof-of-concept project to produce the world’s first commercially viable, all-composite, modular wheel system. Targeted at niche and electric vehicle applications, it sought to demonstrate the durability of composite wheels and quantify improvements made to vehicle efficiency from the lightweighting effects of composites.
Existing composite wheels are typically manufactured in single cavity resin transfer moulding processes where liquid resin is injected into a tool containing a constrained dry fibre preform. Process equipment is expensive and multipart tooling assemblies are highly complicated. The primary innovation within ACRIM-Wheel was separating the wheel tooling into two elements, the barrel and the centre. This innovative approach enabled a single barrel tool to be used with multiple centre options.
Rather than focusing on high-end sports cars or performance vehicles – the traditional market for composite lightweighting – ACRIM-Wheel was developed with high-frequency stop/start vehicles and city driving in mind. This type of transport is influenced by rotational inertia more than vehicles that move at steady speeds for prolonged periods of time.
ACRIM’s lightest wheel variant weighs in at just 3kg, compared to around 8.5kg for a typical steel wheel. This translates to roughly a five per cent increase in fuel efficiency when the wheels are retrofitted to a combustion vehicle. The composite wheels are due to be trialled on the Gordon Murray designed MOTIV, an autonomous single-seater electric transport pod.
“The world’s first all-composite wheel for electric and niche vehicles has moved a major step forward, and we can confidently say it has the ability to deliver huge cost savings over anything on the market,” said Edward Allnutt, managing director of Carbon ThreeSixty.
“It can also be manufactured in volume and gives OEMs huge flexibility in what they can specify. This is truly a quantum leap in wheel design and manufacture.”
Project: AutoAir: UK 5G Test Bed for Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs)
Partners: Dense Air with Millbrook, Blu Wireless Technology, McLaren Applied Technologies, University of Surrey, Quortus, Real Wireless, Celestia Technologies, Telefonica (O2), Atkins
Bringing together partners from across transport, communications and academia, AutoAir set out to demonstrate the viability, benefits and commercial implications of rolling out 5G on UK transport corridors.
Based at the famous Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, the project saw a next-generation mobile data network installed across the site to support the development, testing and validation of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV). The testbed was envisaged, planned, designed constructed and deployed in nine months at Millbrook. It consists of 89 radios covering 2.3, 3.5, 3.7GHz 4G and 5G spectrum, 60GHz mmWave mesh and 70GHz high-speed vehicle-to-infrastructure links. 59 masts were fitted around the site, linked by 30km of power lines and fibre cabling.
As the first project of its kind, site engineers overcame early challenges posed by nature in the delivery of masts fixed in living woodland areas. Installation took place throughout summer 2018, with a switch-on and launch event held in February 2019. AutoAir has already yielded significant insight into how MNOs, vehicle manufacturers, governments and transport operators could harness neutrally hosted 5G and mmWave spectrum networks for a more cost-effective and connected future of mobility.
The project’s success means that CAV developers now have access to a low latency, wide-area wireless infrastructure that will work seamlessly across the entire Millbrook Proving Ground. This capability is crucial for the validation and testing of level three to level five autonomous vehicles, which require high speed, real-time connectivity to compare ‘real world’ outcomes with modelling and simulation.
Electrification specialist Equipmake teamed up with Bristol-based additive manufacturing expert HiETA to create AMPERE, an ultra-power-dense 3D printed electric motor. Weighing in at less than 10kg and targeting a peak power of 220kW at 30,000rpm, the motor is slated to deliver more than 20 kW per kg and is claimed to be the world’s most power-dense electric motor.
Key to the performance of AMPERE is the motor’s thin walls and complex internal geometries, created by HiETA using selective laser melting (SLM). The technique allows components to be built using very fine layers of metal powder, which – unlike selective laser sintering (SLS) – are fully melted into single components rather than simply fused together. With applications ranging from automotive to aerospace and a predicted low cost of manufacture, AMPERE promises to be a step-change in electrified mobility.
“Additive manufacturing is the key to unlocking the next step-change and we are delighted to be partnering with HiETA on AMPERE,” said Ian Foley, managing director of Equipmake.
“This exciting project has the potential to totally change our concept of what an electric motor can offer – and with such a huge amount of performance in a such a small package at as low a cost as possible, this motor is set to further revolutionise e-mobility, whether that’s in automotive or aerospace. We are grateful to Innovate UK for their support and are looking forward to getting the very first AMPERE prototypes up and running.”
The CHASSIS project featured yet another innovative application of composite materials, combining carbon fibre and injection moulded parts with aluminium and steel components in the suspension system of the Ford Transit.
Lightweighting is of particular concern to the commercial vehicle sector, where standard licenses restrict drivers to a gross vehicle weight of 3.5 tonnes. As a rule, battery weight makes electric vehicles heavier than their petrol and diesel counterparts, and weight reductions will be crucial in order to maintain the payload capacity of battery-electric vans.
CHASSIS set out to find a multi-material solution to provide affordable weight savings for mass production volumes of the Ford Transit, a stalwart of UK roads since 1965. The team redesigned the vehicle’s front subframe, lower control arm and rear deadbeam axle to generate a 44 per cent weight saving – the hybrid materials coming in at 38.7kg compared with 69.3kg for an all-steel chassis.
When deployed, the hybrid material technology being delivered for the Transit platform will reduce emissions by 0.6 per cent, alongside a corresponding improvement in fuel economy. While this may be a relatively modest improvement, it paves the way for wider adoption of composite structures in high volume automotive production. The learnings from the CHASSIS project have been instrumental in the acceptance of Ford’s APC 15 eSHADOW project, which will evolve the findings of CHASSIS into the next generation Transit programme to reduce the overall vehicle weight by 80kg.