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ThyssenKrupp offers new solutions to carmakers

Murali Gopalan | Updated on March 12, 2018

Environmental innovation Sustainability is key to the solutions provided by InCar, a project by Germansteelmaker ThyssenKrupp AG

Issues on weight, costs and emissions are part of InCar plus, which will be offered to global automakers

Its automotive business accounts for a fourth of its €40 billion turnover. For German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp AG, InCar plus was only a logical extension of its expertise in the auto space.

This project saw its engineers develop 40 new components and solutions which will lead to weight savings of up to 50 per cent and a 20 per cent reduction in cost. These are focused on the chassis and steering, powertrain and body.

“Normally, such efforts involve simultaneous engineering where the OEM and supplier come together but we worked independently. Yet, we continued to have a close dialogue with customers,” Bernd Overmaat, Spokesman Technology, Innovation & Sustainability, ThyssenKrupp told Auto Focus over phone from Germany.

Sustainable solutions

There were 100 engineers who worked at 15 locations across the country. They represented three business areas: Steel Europe, Components Technology and Industrial Solutions. “We have people who know how a car factory works and form a portfolio of capabilities,” Overmaat says. The project cost was a “low, two digit million Euro sum”.

Sustainability is an important part of the InCar plus solutions. OEMs can quickly figure out how use of a certain material will affect the carbon footprint of their vehicles. It is here that weight reduction plays a key role. The teams will present their innovations to automakers in Europe, the Americas and Asia.

“Everyone has been working well and the real challenge begins now in selling these ideas to carmakers. Some potential customers are homegrown brands like Volkswagen, Audi, Mercedes and Opel,” Overmaat says.

Indian outlook

From ThyssenKrupp’s point of view, InCar plus holds a lot of potential in emerging markets like India. The company plans to offer a bouquet of solutions to cater to diverse customers keeping in mind that they operate in “varied technological frameworks”.

ThyssenKrupp believes the car of the future will use a mix of materials such as steel, aluminium, CFRP (carbon fibre- reinforced polymer) and magnesium. “One of the areas we will concentrate on in the future will be hybrid materials.

These will combine the advantages of different materials in one metal sheet such as steel/CFRP hybrids, steel/polymer hybrids, steel/steel mixes and steel/magnesium solutions,” Overmaat says.

Lifecycle solutions

In his view, the most important ingredient of InCar plus is the lifecycle analysis that the solutions provide. While governments around the world have set ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gases, ThyssenKrupp wants to provide customers with lifecycle assessments. These make the environmental impact of InCar plus innovations transparent as a result.

“We also go beyond the statutory requirements. Unlike legislators, we do not just concentrate on tailpipe emissions but on the entire lifecycle. In our opinion, the current regulations are too narrow. They do not address emissions during production and they ignore the issue of recycling,” Overmaat says.

In the process, solutions may be favored that cut emissions during driving, but generate so many (emissions) in other phases of the lifecycle that they have a negative impact on sustainability. “That is why InCar plus assessments take in all stages of the lifecycle and our holistic approach also takes into account various environmental indicators, not just CO2 emissions and greenhouse effects,” he adds.

Materials matter

The project’s innovative sandwich materials combine the properties of different materials in new composites as, for instance, the steel-polymer composite LITECOR and TriBond, the steel-steel composite.

LITECOR is a sandwich material in which two very thin steel face sheets are combined with a lightweight polymer core to link the high strength of steel with the low weight of plastic. According to Overmaat, the potential for weight reduction using LITECOR is almost as high as for aluminum but the composite is significantly lower in cost.

“In InCar plus we show that weight savings of over 33 per cent are possible in outer skin applications and around 20 per cent on engine hoods at attractive costs,” he says.

The exercise was not confined to the body but examined other vehicle components such as the seats. The use of LITECOR in the driver’s seat, specifically the cushion pan, allows a 37 per cent weight reduction. The technology has already been used in a small VW production run.

Focus on efficiency

TriBond, explains Overmaat, is a three-layer steel composite for hot forming developed for crash-relevant structural parts. Its high energy absorption and maximum bending angle properties are achieved combining high-strength steels with highly ductile (steels) in a sandwich material. This offers significant weight reduction potential.

The InCar plus teams also aimed at increasing the efficiency of electric drives and make better use of battery capacity. “We focused on core components of the electric drive: the rotor and the gear shaft. To develop an understanding of the system as a whole, our engineers developed their own drive structure,” Overmaat says.

By seeing how all the parts work together, it was possible to assess and test the features of individual components and how they interact. The result is a complete two-speed transmission for an electric vehicle in the small car class.

Published on September 25, 2014

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