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Even steam rollers needed to shed weight

Really, not a steam roller
Really, not a steam roller

“Simplify, then add lightness,” is attributed to Colin Chapman, distinguished engineer and founder of Lotus cars. But long before, ‘weight is the enemy’, has been an age-old mantra.

Weight is mass, and it takes power to accelerate and slow down - or to move it from one place to another. Less weight does more than make any vehicle turn better, accelerate faster, and stop quicker. It can also make your family-car more efficient.

One of Mother Nature’s laws we cannot avoid entails inertia, which is defined as “a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.”

The articles of April 14 and April 21 in these columns gave a hint of the age-old effort to reduce weight.

Applied to any vehicle, not just horse-drawn wagons, it simply means that, the more a vehicle weighs, the more power must be applied to get it moving and up to speed, and it also takes greater effort to come to a stop again.

Iron and steel are still the most common materials used. Steam-rollers during grandfather’s time were huge, heavy and cumbersome; When Diesel power replaced the steam engine, the road building machines became smaller and lighter.

But a compacter needs some ‘punch’ to build a firm road bed, and road-builders added water in the hollow wheels to regain lost weight. Vibrating wheels were developed, using hydraulic pumps, and now lightweight rollers produce better surfaces than ever before, without the extra weight.

Despite the steam behind the road-roller in the above picture, it is not a steamroller, but a diesel unit; Water is used for a smoother surface finish on the hot asphalt, hence the steam.

Making auto body panels of relatively heavy steel has been common since the Model T Ford.
Today, saving weight wherever possible, is the order of the day; severe CO2 restrictions are looming ever closer. Aluminum and plastic construction fits that need to a tee.

From one end of the scale to the other, from Ford F150 pickups to Jaguar’s XJ saloon and F-Type sportscar, from the exclusive Land Rover to 250,000 aluminum Audis, more and more automakers revert to lightweight materials to save weight.

Saving weight saves fuel and emissions, the essential goal for tomorrow’s alternative transportation.

A leader in lightweight construction, Volkswagen’s Audi brand is using nature as an example for “advantage thru technology” in saving weight the same way as stylists are imitating animals to streamline vehicles in the most unusual ways — as does Mother Nature. (Article to follow)

Ford, and others, are doing the same: “Consumers today want better fuel efficiency, but they also want more technology and features in the car, which usually adds weight to the vehicle,” said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, Global Product Development. “A focus on light-weighting will be fundamental to our industry for years to come, and we are investigating many advanced materials applications as possible solutions for weight reduction in our vehicles.

“Our goal was to investigate how to design and build a mixed-materials, lightweight vehicle that could potentially be produced in high volume, while providing the same level of safety, durability and toughness as our vehicles on the road today,” said Matt Zaluzec, Ford technical leader, Global Materials and Manufacturing Research. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to light-weighting. The Lightweight Concept gives us the platform to continue to explore the right mix of materials and applications for future vehicles.”

From construction equipment to racing cars “We [engineers] do everything we can to make sure weight is reduced to a minimum. With carbon fiber you have absolutely no reason to add weight because the inherent qualities and stiffness are there,” said Frank Stephenson, McLaren designer.

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