I'm forever blowing bubbles
3M's glass bubbles technology helps OEMs achieve up to a 40% weight reduction in composite parts
As automotive manufacturers look to improve fuel economy and battery range for electrification, material lightweighting without compromising mechanical integrity is vital. Metals, although lightweight, can come with indirect processing and manufacturing costs. But materials firm 3M thinks sheet moulded composites (SMCs) are a viable alternative to metals in certain applications, while still achieving the desired physical properties.
The firm has developed its Glass Bubbles S32HS technology to help OEMs achieve up to a 40% weight reduction of composite parts, at a density below 1.0 g/cc, while still enabling a class A paintable finish. This innovation makes SMCs an attractive option in automotive design for OEMs.
Ray Eby, vice-president of 3M Automotive Electrification said: “With the trend toward electric and high efficiency cars, reducing overall vehicle weight is key to staying competitive. A typical automobile has about 300kg of composite parts. With ultra lightweight SMCs enabled by our glass bubbles, OEMs can significantly improve a vehicle’s energy usage, while saving money– one less bump in the road in the race to automotive electrification.”
The technology sounds relatively simple. By replacing conventional fillers, these hollow glass microspheres can reduce the weight of moulded parts without sacrificing strength or aesthetics. For the first time, 3M has been able to break the density barrier, making ultra lightweight SMCs more competitive to steel and aluminium, opening up new possibilities for the material mix in automotive applications.
It's a technology that is unlikely to be picked up by consumer publications until it's actually been integrated into a production vehicle, but the technology is worthy of talking about. Imagine the difference it could make, not only to high-performance cars, but also to the more mainstream too.