Dharapuram Sethumadavan, President, Polymer Business, Varroc Engineering Ltd., in an interaction with Industry Outlook, shares his views on automotive weight reduction, new design concepts for lightweighting, emergence of new-age technologies, and more.
The global lightweight-car market is expected to be worth more than USD 76 billion by 2027. How do you see this market developing in India? What are the key factors driving the growth?
In recent times, the lightweight-car market
has witnessed an unprecedented growth rate. Catching upon the trend, Asia-Pacific countries are expected to have the fastest growth rate in the sector, especially India and China.
The key factors driving the growth are the policy implementations, including the BS VI emission norms and PLI scheme auto components and EVs. Further, with consumers being more conscious about their carbon footprint due to climate change and preferring fuel-efficient vehicles, the need for lightweight vehicles will increase.
As a result, most automakers are increasingly positioning and re-branding their models with an aesthetics and design language more inclined towards lightweight automotive components
. Further, as the popularity for electric vehicles grows, the lightweight-car market is expected to witness an exponential growth in India.
Reducing vehicle weight will be a challenge with respect to many parts of the vehicle, especially highly structural parts such as the BIW. How can an effective automotive weight reduction be attained?
One of the most effective ways to achieve weight reduction would be to emphasize on design-driven technology, which can blend the aesthetic flair of the design and technical finesse of engineering. Going forward, the industry will witness huge investments in R&D to find solutions for effectively reducing weight of the vehicle at crucial stages of the manufacturing process, while maintaining the structural integrity of the vehicles.
Further, wall thickness reduction in product design by challenging the conventional considerations through topology optimization is one of the key focus areas. This can be achieved by working in tandem with the plastic raw material manufacturer who can work on improving on the melt flow index of the polymer without compromising the other physical properties.
At Varroc, we have a full-fledged R&D Centre with attached Analytical Lab working extensively to provide solution for engineering in interior and exterior system, Active Safety components and advanced clean air filter solutions across PV, CV, 2W and 3W segment. The light weighting transformation projects are driven in close collaboration with OEMs to achieve the desired results. Varroc also has a set framework to work along the key IITs in India to leverage the academic research knowledge for transformation projects.
One of the most obvious ways to remove weight from a vehicle is to consider alternative materials that are lighter, yet strong enough to withstand the impact of a crash. However, manufacturing components with new materials can bring new challenges like – long manufacturing cycle times. How do you propose to overcome this challenge?
While considering alternative materials is an obvious option to make a vehicle lighter, it is of utmost importance to identify the right material used as a replacement for the traditional steel and other metals used. We are overcoming this challenge by replacing large sheet metal parts with polymer and also by introducing light weight micro-cellular polymers & composites in trims and other body parts.
These materials are helping us ensure that the desired weight reduction for our customers is achieved without compromising on the strength to withstand major impacts of a crash. These light-weighting components go through the testing and validation as per the regulation standards of global OEMS in terms of NVH Durability and Passenger Safety.
We are also working on advanced technologies like 2K molding for injecting two materials in one shot, 3i technology for high-gloss paint finish and reduced wall thickness, and battery protection for electric vehicles. To reduce the cycle time, we have also introduced new-age technologies like Conformal Cooling Techniques and High-Flow Cooling circuits which have helped improve the cycle time by 15% to 20% and 10% to 15%, respectively, along with using Copper Core Cavity High Thermal conductive materials which have helped us reduce the cooling time by 25% to 30%. Deployment of such technologies can further add value to the vehicle’s design and structural integrity.
The direct challenges in lightweighting are developing feasible design concepts of the components. How is the industry bringing in new design concepts to enable lightweighting?
The lightweighting of vehicles can provide some excellent opportunities to enhance the design elements of a vehicle with no impact on the vehicle efficiency. The use of lightweight structural materials can allow automobile manufacturers and designers to fit in additional safety devices, emission control systems, integrated electronic systems, upgraded dashboards and much more.
With increased focus on R&D, the automotive industry is leveraging this opportunity by improving their offerings and constantly upgrading their existing models. A segment that has witnessed the new design elements is the electric and hybrid-electric vehicles. The use of lightweight materials in the segment is not only allowing the automotive industry to enhance the features but also result in needing smaller battery while keeping all-electric range constant.
In India, lightweighting is lagging behind in terms of global practices as the ecosystem is still in its nascent stage due to lack of technological innovation and inadequate investments in R&D. How do you see this situation?
India is an exciting market and the lightweighting trend in India has been for quite some time now. Though one may argue that the ecosystem is in its nascent stage, the industry has already witnessed some significant innovations and progress in the sector right from exploring alternative materials to executing the lightweight projects. We have witnessed emergence of new-age technologies like:
• Mucell/Core Back Technology
• Injection Compression Molding
• Natural Fiber Polypropylene for Injection Molding
• Natural Fiber Compression Insert Molding
• Water Assisted Injection Molding
• Gas Assisted Injection Molding
The growth of the industry got a much-needed push with the new BS VI norms, FAME II project and inclusion of EVs in the PLI scheme. As the trend for fuel efficient and alternate fuel vehicles grow, the lightweight component industry is expected to grow alongside the entire automotive industry.
Having said that, there is scope for the industry to accelerate the growth and keep up with the adoption of upcoming emission regulations and emerging safety standards.
How do you foresee the lightweight car market evolving in the near future?
As the Indian economy recovers from the pandemic-led slowdown, the near future for the lightweight car market in India seems optimistic. The increasing need for reduction of CO2 emissions and improved fuel efficiency will further provide a much-needed boost to the industry. However, today, approximately 200 to 300 kgs of plastics and composites are being used in a passenger car that represents only 15-20% of the weight of the car.
We expect the lightweight car market to grow at a CAGR rate of 5% over the next 5 years and reach a value of $ 76.28 billion by 2027. Players like Renault Nissan, Maruti, Hyundai, Honda, VW, M&M, and Tata Motors will play an important role in the growth of the industry.
With the industry growing, the auto component industry is also expected to grow at a CAGR rate of 3% in the segment, and Varroc will play a significant role in the industry with its robust R&D capabilities and engineering excellence.