Sustainability targets in the automotive industry have sparked a widely publicised technology revolution in electric vehicles and energy usage, and as a result the Automotive industry has a remarkable opportunity to create more affordable, energy efficient and convenient solutions for a captive global market. There can be no argument that the pandemic has accelerated a shift in values: cleaner air and reducing environmental impact are recognised as both urgent and achievable. Evolving into a responsible organisation and prioritising sustainability are now key markers for business success and consumer buy-in.

Automotive OEM’s have emerged as having an almost unique ability to drive value and impact by combining digital technologies and sustainability in a fast-evolving world. By leveraging knowledge and capabilities from other industries, such as Energy and Technology, as well as manufacturing experts within their own supply chains, there is significant scope to radically reduce their environmental impact.

It’s also true that in the realms of sustainable improvement, “every little helps”. Whilst on the face of it, electrification will allow vehicles to be as sustainable as the energy that powers them, making them no worse than any other consumer of electricity. There are a lot of contributing factors that designers will need carefully consider in order to maximise the benefits of EV technology. A good example is the importance of battery manufacturing and disposal processes. This is where the collective efforts of expert manufacturers within the wider automotive supply chains really come into play.

Material selection presents challenges

Materials for car exteriors and interiors have been historically selected based on their cost, durability and flexibility of design. Virgin plastic is closely associated with fossil fuels and petrochemicals, and has been a mainstay within the automotive sector for many years. The process of injection moulding plastic parts is not only cost effective, but enables designers to create a myriad of complex shapes and forms suitable for exterior and interior applications. It seems somewhat inevitable that the use of plastics in automotive design will have to be reduced if OEM’s are to meet their sustainability targets.  So, with that in mind, what alternatives could they consider?

Low density materials. Generally speaking, low mass materials contain less embodied carbon than high mass materials because they require less energy during manufacture. A good example is light metals such as aluminium, magnesium and titanium. A recent Ash & Lacy R&D project has examined the use of titanium and yielded some very exciting results.

Materials with significant recycled content. Some materials lend themselves better to recycling than others, but any products that are made with recycled content use less energy, water and create less pollution than their virgin counterparts. Aluminium, for example, is fully recyclable without loss of quality and the recycled product is indistinguishable from virgin material.

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Light-weighting will be crucial

Already becoming a buzz word in the automotive industry, ‘light-weighting’ is key to the vehicle design revolution. In an EV world, the issue of ‘fuel efficiency’ will soon give way to ‘battery life’ and vehicles will need to be as light as possible in order to maximise battery life and ranges. An obvious solution to making materials lighter is to reduce their mass, by making them thinner or lower density. The challenge is to balance weight efficiency with strength and durability, particularly as it’s likely that EV vehicles will be designed to last longer than petrol and diesel cars. With their excellent engineering properties, perforated and expanded metals have the potential to satisfy longevity needs for interior and exterior parts, without compromising on safety and quality. Expanded metal in particular has an excellent strength to weight ratio due to a highly efficient manufacturing process, and can be formed into complex, lightweight components with relative ease by our team of experienced specialists. The process of expanding metal is considered to be more efficient than perforating because there is no waste of material involved in its manufacture. In principle, 100% of the sheet is utilised in the final product.

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Responsible sourcing starts with your supply chain

With hundreds of car manufacturing plants located globally, OEM’s have the ability to systematically structure their procurement supply chains allowing for local sourcing of materials at their key sites. The carbon footprint generated by the transportation of incoming supplier goods can be significant when they are imported from abroad, with shipping and commercial transport currently accounting for around 10% of global carbon emissions. But responsible sourcing isn’t solely about where products are made, but how they are made. Minimising energy use and material waste during the manufacture of component parts is of equal importance. As an IATF 16469 and ISO 14001 certified organisation, Ash & Lacy Automotive are committed to continual improvement, defect prevention and reduction of waste to meet our client’s requirements efficiently and effectively.

More on sustainability credentials

Case Study – efficient manufacturing for Land Rover

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