The European Union’s ‘Fit for 55’ plan is a game-changer, aiming to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, a mere seven years from now. This ambitious target represents a global commitment to tackle climate change, with the automotive sector taking centre stage in efforts to slash carbon emissions. The key to this green revolution is a radical transformation of various interconnected industries, and the onus is undoubtedly on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to make the shift towards electric vehicles (EVs) – marking a decisive departure from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.
As the era of ICE vehicles draws to a close, one paramount concern looms large: EV range. To optimise battery capacity and efficiency, lightweighting and the use of innovative materials become top priorities. However, making the automotive industry more sustainable goes beyond a shift in vehicle type; it’s about making the manufacturing of EVs themselves more sustainable. It’s about embracing a new era of responsible manufacturing that respects the planet’s boundaries. Achieving these lofty goals requires a paradigm shift in manufacturing practices, and this is where Industry 5.0 technologies come into play, offering innovative solutions to make automotive manufacturing greener and more efficient than ever before.
While ‘Industry 4.0’ focused on efficiency and productivity, Industry 5.0 takes the concept further by placing workers’ well-being at the centre of production processes. It envisions an industry that leverages advanced technologies to provide prosperity beyond just jobs and growth while respecting the planet’s ecological needs. It’s about creating a sustainable, human-centric, and resilient European industry.
The transition towards sustainability presents significant challenges, such as the need for new materials and more sustainable engineering and design processes, as well as a transformation in the way people work together across the supply chain. Advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), digital reality, additive manufacturing, and cloud computing will play major roles in overcoming these challenges and moving towards carbon neutrality in automotive manufacturing.
One of the most substantial challenges is the resistance of OEMs to switch to unfamiliar materials. After years of using the same materials and manufacturing processes, transitioning to something new can raise many questions and concerns. However, the rise of EVs necessitates innovation in materials for new batteries and parts. The challenge here is evaluating part performance across countless variables, such as the conditions created by vehicle operating speeds. There is generally a lack of the necessary information to test each material. Thus, solutions must be found to gain access to this data without hindering workflows and designs.
One solution is the use of simulation tools like Hexagon’s Nexus Materials Enrich. This tool enables engineers to access vital material data rapidly, overcoming constraints in designing sustainable materials. The cloud software application combines physics-based modelling with AI and machine learning capabilities to generate high-quality data that accurately reflects real-life conditions, even from a small dataset of basic properties. This effectively fills in gaps in the “periodic table” of engineering materials, enabling confident use of this data in standard computer-aided engineering processes.
The adoption of new reinforced plastics and composites typically requires years and millions of dollars for physical test metrics to understand their complex properties and performance. This new solution offers the potential to simulate existing materials and utilise AI and machine learning to virtually test materials that have never been physically tested before. The economic and productivity benefit is significant, with research demonstrating that AI enrichment could reduce the typical cost of testing a new material by up to 62.5%, as well as reducing the typical time taken by up to 65%.
Additionally, an AI plugin for Digimat, Hexagon’s material modelling platform, leverages Hexagon’s AI and machine learning platform for engineering, ODYSSEE, to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of the simulation process by predicting the reliability and strength of parts made from different materials in real time, considering the variability of both materials and processes. The tool works effectively with small datasets, saving time and cost and has the power to support OEMs and tier one suppliers develop confidence in new designs that utilise recycled materials.
With the help of AI-enhanced tools, researchers and engineers can access crucial data on materials quickly to make informed choices, ensuring that materials are not only durable but also environmentally friendly. This accelerates the development and adoption of recycled and recyclable materials that are essential for reducing the automotive industry’s carbon footprint.
For example, we partnered with SPC Europe to provide carmakers with a comprehensive database that identifies sustainable alternatives to traditional materials that could lower the carbon footprint of automotive parts by up to 60% while meeting all standards, enabling them to accurately simulate components and subject them to the necessary tests.
Optimising design through digital reality
Digital reality is revolutionising car design and engineering, making them more sustainable by minimising material consumption and fostering innovation. Virtual prototyping, an essential tool in eco-friendly vehicle development, reduces material wastage during testing phases. Digital twins enable designers to experiment with various materials, designs, and manufacturing methods in a virtual environment, decreasing the need for physical prototypes, saving time, resources, and reducing waste. These digital twins also provide performance data, allowing engineers to optimise designs with quality measurements.
Hexagon customers utilise technologies such as laser scanning and CT scan analysis to validate simulation results, boosting confidence. While virtual prototyping requires High-Performance Computing (HPC) and its associated energy consumption, its environmental impact is far lower than shipping physical prototypes worldwide.
Digital reality acts as a catalyst for innovation, allowing experimentation with new rules, materials, and manufacturing processes. With a high-quality digital twin at the core, makers can efficiently collaborate and optimise every aspect of the design and production process, from materials to cost.
The opportunities here are broader than just plastics or indeed the material choice. Hexagon partner, Divergent Technologies, is pioneering green manufacturing through its Divergent Adaptive Production System (DAPS), which integrates AI-optimised generative design and additive manufacturing for mass-producing lightweight automotive components. DAPS significantly reduces material usage, costs, and emissions, with impressive weight reductions of 20% to 70%. It employs 3D printing of metal alloys and autonomous assembly with adhesives, transforming the automotive and aerospace industries while emphasising sustainability. Digital reality is driving a fundamental shift in design optimisation, reducing waste, and enabling eco-friendly solutions in the automotive industry.
Collaborating for transparency and accountability
Collaboration across the supply chain is crucial to making the automotive industry more sustainable. The automotive industry has a complex supply chain network with many tiers, where environmental degradation mostly happens within the supply chain network. It is essential to share information between companies and ensure regulatory alignment between regions if the automotive industry wants to achieve its sustainability goals.
Hexagon’s Nexus digital reality platform is enabling makers to collaborate on complex projects, in real time, across diverse multi-disciplinary teams. Its cloud-native nature makes it a more dynamic platform for exchanging and discussing ideas than existing on-premises solutions. For engineers facing challenges, like finding materials data or reaching out to material suppliers, Nexus simplifies these processes. This is where Nexus could play a significant role in fostering collaboration, creating new projects, and driving innovation.
Looking to the future, we envision Nexus Materials Connect becoming a transformative marketplace for materials suppliers, akin to the Amazon.com for materials. This vision promises instant access to materials data, effectively bypassing the challenges associated with traditional supply chains—an area in which current databases face limitations, given their lack of cloud integration. This evolution marks a pivotal step forward in the world of materials science and engineering, fostering innovation and streamlining processes for stakeholders across the industry.
The pathway to achieving Europe’s carbon-neutral goals is through smart and sustainable automotive manufacturing – and advancements in sustainable materials are crucial for this transition. Despite the complex challenges that lie ahead, the use of advanced technologies to promote and enhance collaboration between humans and machines is poised to create highly efficient and sustainable manufacturing processes that benefit not just the industry, but also the environment and society as a whole. The ‘Fit for 55’ plan is a powerful driver, and it’s up to the automotive industry to embrace the future and steer towards a greener and more sustainable tomorrow.