With the constant drive to improve fuel efficiency it is no surprise that vehicle manufacturers are consistently looking for ways to reduce the weight of their designs.
What is surprising, however, is that many vehicles – from cars through to trucks, buses and military vehicles – are becoming heavier rather than lighter, for a variety of reasons.
The most ironic is the need for vehicles to be fitted with extra equipment, such as catalytic converters and on-board diagnostics, in order to meet increasingly stringent exhaust emissions standards.
The latest European emissions standard, Euro 6, for diesel engines, will come into force in December this year and it is widely anticipated that in order to meet it buses and trucks will require additional pollution-reducing equipment.
In other sectors there are additional pressures which are putting weight onto vehicles: in the military, for example, the sheer weight of kit required to safeguard troops in operations is increasing.
While there has been huge investment in the automotive sector to develop lighter materials such as carbon fibre for bodies and aluminium for engines, manufacturers have paid less attention to parts.
Similarly, the commercial vehicle sector has focused on finding aerodynamic cab and trailer designs that reduce drag and boost fuel efficiency. The weight and composition of parts has been overlooked until now.
Recognising this change, Pailton Engineering, the global leader in the design and manufacture of steering systems, which has been at the forefront of engineering design for decades is now focusing on investing heavily in the research and development of products utlising alternative materials.
"We have seen an increasing number of customers ask us to produce lighter alternatives to the parts that they require," said John Nollett, Managing Director of Pailton Engineering, which is based in Coventry, UK.
"They are looking beyond the bonnet and the engine to reassess the materials used as part of the build process. Indeed we have recently started to manufacture some panhard drag links in aluminium which is just the beginning of the process.
"Manufacturers face a dilemma: they are under huge pressures to continually improve fuel efficiency while at the same time increase the loads on their vehicles.
"Selecting lighter materials for a wider range of parts is one solution to this problem.
"However, manufacturers need to be sure that lighter materials are up to the job – that they can withstand the stresses, strains and loads, and the wear and tear they will sustain under tough operating conditions."
Pailton use FEA software to ascertain if modern materials surpass the endurance life of traditional steel components, whist also designing to provide optimum solutions, at a very early stage of the design process.
Pailton can now also offer a bespoke service to take these FEA results, and produce strain gauged samples, these can then be calibrated using the Pailton test facility, prior to on vehicle application trials. The service offered then includes analysis of the results, and the construction of block loading testing schedules, which can be directly loaded into Pailton’s testing equipment, to replicated accelerated vehicle life testing.
Pailton’s engineering expertise makes it well-placed to develop lighter parts and it is currently testing a range of materials, including carbon fibre and composites, to see what innovative solutions it can produce.
A national finalist in the European Business Awards 2012/13, Pailton has recently won a grant from the government’s Regional Growth Fund to help fund its ambitious expansion plans and support its research and development.
With customers in the truck, Euro bus, agricultural and military markets, Pailton has a long history of producing bespoke designs to meet customers’ specific requirements.
Moreover, it is adept at designing and manufacturing parts that are reliable in safety critical operations and that can withstand tough operating conditions.