PLYMOUTH – An innovative lightweight car frame was rolled out at the SEMA show a few weeks ago in Las Vegas by the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center that could soon lead to investments in tooling and testing for an initial market of replica car buyers, but could be used on mass produced vehicles in the future.
This lightweight alternative, not yet in production, is ideal for replacing car frames on nearly any specialty vehicle and offers an affordable, stiffer and safer car frame option, said Elliott Forsyth, Vice President of Business Development for MMTC. Models of the C2 Corvette prototype frames were met with an enthusiastic response by industry peers.
“We were targeting the replica car market, Forsyth said. “The people who buy replica vehicles want a car that looks like original, but with modern conveniences. “The companies buying this technology see this as a tremendous advantage that takes 90 pounds of weight out, which improves performance. It’s at the same price point as a steel frame, but it is much stronger.”
Forsyth said stiffness is particularly relevant to high-end sports cars. The trouble is manufacturing frames with these characteristics is very expensive.
“This price point (for the lightweight frames) is leveraged not because the materials are less expensive, but how the frame is manufactured,” he said. “We can manufacture this frame in two hours versus several days.”
The secret sauce is instead of welding the components together, a very labor intensive process, the frame is joined using structural adhesives and mechanical fasteners. This allows the adhesive to bond 100 percent of the flange, which spreads the loads over a larger area than a typical spot weld.
Leaders across the automotive engineering industry developed the frame together. A lead engineer from The Center, a representative of the MEP National Network, worked with software developer and trusted OEM consultant Detroit Engineered Products (DEP), with additional support from Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT), The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) and the University of Tennessee, Center for Industrial Services Institute for Public Service for this project.
In response to requests for purchase, The Center is now pursuing investments to fund low-volume production of the frames, including tooling and testing.
“The Center’s and DEP’s lead engineers received invaluable support from this team of experts,” said Gregg Peterson, Principle Materials Engineer, Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. “Partnering with MEP centers and Manufacturing USA institutes was a new approach for our team and we’re thrilled with the final product. It’s a great example of the breakthrough innovation that can be achieved when working collaboratively.”
Engineers use morphing software to allow the lightweight frame to fit virtually any body and length. This forward-looking engineering offers a great opportunity for innovation across numerous industries. Project leads are gauging interest outside the arena of car restoration.
“DEP was able to bring our deep expertise in software development by applying our patented ‘MeshWorks 8.0’ morphing software to the lightweight frame, allowing it to be more versatile and fit nearly any vehicle length and width,” said John Gelmisi, Director of Business Development, DEP. “We were proud to join leaders from Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center and industry partners who applied advanced engineering to this project, including an innovative combination of materials and joint adhesives, inventing a product we feel is unmatched on the market today.”
To learn more about the lightweight aftermarket frames, visit: www.the-center.org/lightweight-frames.