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Rising to the Challenge of Lightweight Vehicles

A flexible manufacturing environment allows carmakers to meet new material demands – and deliver vehicles with features consumers want at a price they can afford

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Ford Motor Company's decision to aggressively market its 2015 F-150 pickup sparked a public debate on the benefits and potential pitfalls of lightweight vehicle construction.

But the truth is, global automakers have been quietly incorporating lightweight materials for more than a decade. The once universal sheet metal car body has been replaced with a blend of carbon fiber, aluminum and high-strength steel.

And in the face of increasing government mandates for higher fuel efficiency, lighter weight vehicles are here to stay.

In fact, a study conducted by Ducker Worldwide predicts that more than 75 percent of pickup trucks and 20 percent of SUVs and large sedans produced in North America will be aluminum-bodied by 2025.

Beyond reducing a car's carbon footprint, lighter materials make fuel-conserving powertrain technologies more attractive to consumers who value ample vehicle size, comfort and high performance. A lighter vehicle with a 4-cylinder engine can better mimic the performance of a V-8. A lighter chassis can better accommodate the extra weight of hybrid and all-electric vehicle batteries.

Tier suppliers, who know the weight of each component will be scrutinized by automakers, must adopt new design strategies and incorporate lighter materials whenever possible.

For today's automotive plants that produce multiple vehicles and variations on a single line, lighter materials add even more complexity to an already complex process.

A press line, for example, may run a wide variety of body parts – and a range of different materials – each requiring a die change. The ability to quickly and efficiently adjust the equipment is key to the productivity of the line.

Now add the pressures of a volatile market where external factors – such as the price of gasoline – can impact consumer preference almost overnight.

No doubt, manufacturing flexibility is critical to high-volume productivity and the delivery of vehicles consumers want and can afford.

Automation solutions based on the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture® system are designed to help automakers and tier suppliers achieve the manufacturing flexibility they need to meet today's demands. This control and information-enabled approach uses a single network and streamlines multiple disciplines including safety into a single package. And perhaps most critical, it helps enable secure and easy flow of production information.

In other words, our enterprise-wide infrastructure helps make a complex production environment less complex – and more efficient and responsive to change.

Take a look at how this flexible control system upgrade helped support Toyota's just-in-time manufacturing philosophy in a press shop.

And learn more about flexible production environments that help automakers and tier suppliers rise to the challenge of light-weighting – and manufacturing complexity – on the plant floor.

Ed Johnston
Ed Johnston
Regional Industry Manager, Automotive & Tire, Rockwell Automation
Ed Johnston

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