Over the past decade, bicycle manufacturers have succeeded in reducing the overall weight of a bicycle as a means to reduce the rider’s physical exertion, improve handling and increase overall speed. Road bikes today only weigh 15-20 pounds, a far cry from the 42-pound steel framed Schwinn Varsity bike of the 1970’s. New materials for road bikes, including aluminum, carbon fiber and titanium, have become so ubiquitous that it seems difficult to remember the steel tanks of yesterday.
New, lightweight materials have radically advanced other industries as well. Despite having no firearm experience, engineer Gaston Glock designed the industry’s first lightweight pistol, the Glock 17, in the early 1980’s. Glock did, however, have extensive experience in advanced synthetic polymers, knowledge that was instrumental in the company’s design of the first successful line of pistols with a polymer frame. The gun is much lighter, so that if you’re wearing it on your hip for 8 or 10 hours, it will be much more comfortable. The Glock is literally made in a plastic mold as opposed to being assembled from steel. It’s what makes it so light. The Glock is also more durable and will function if it’s not cleaned properly or regularly. Despite initial resistance from the market to accept a “plastic gun” due to durability and reliability concerns, and fears that the pistol would be “invisible” to metal detectors in airports, Glock pistols have become the company’s most profitable line of products, commanding 65% of the market share of handguns for U.S. law enforcement as well as supplying numerous national armed forces and security agencies worldwide[i].
Given the federal government’s pressure to increase fuel economy, environmental pressure to reduce carbon footprint and the dreaded price at the pump, leading vehicle manufacturers are now taking action to substantially reduce the weight of their vehicles.
“Every automaker we talk to is talking about how they can do more ‘lightweighting,’” says Patrick Davis, vehicle technologies program manager at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office. “Using lightweight materials is a major way the automakers are planning to meet fuel economy standards through 2025.”[ii]
The Department of Energy reports that for every 100 pounds removed from a vehicle, fuel economy is increased by up to 2 percent. Based on a 25-gallon tank and a fuel price of $4.00 per gallon, savings translate to $2.00 per fill-up.[iii]
Automakers are putting some of their best-selling vehicles on a diet in a race to meet strict new fuel-efficiency regulations that will kick in by the middle of the next decade.
The trend has automakers introducing lighter vehicles and embarking on demonstration projects designed to carve hundreds of kilograms off their most popular vehicles. For example, GM is on an endeavor to reduce vehicle weight 15 percent by 2016.[iv] It has also received major awards for the new Cadillac ATS sedan that weighs 3,315 pounds (1503.7 kilograms). Thanks in large part to an all-aluminum hood, magnesium engine mounts and other lightweight materials the Cadillac ATS is one of the lightest vehicles in its class,[v].
Ford Motor Company is cutting the weight of its new cars and trucks by up to 750 pounds by the end of the decade as a key component of their strategy to improve fuel efficiency. In order to help achieve that goal, Ford is partnering with Dow Automotive Systems, a business unit of The Dow Chemical Company, to research the use of advanced carbon fiber composites in high-volume vehicles.
Plastics are another material appearing in less-traditional automotive applications. For example, Chrysler’s Chief Designer Mark Trostle said it cut weight on its Viper by using a plastic intake instead of an aluminum one.[vi]
Emergency Vehicle Lighting Equipment – Lightbars
Unlike other industries, the focus of weight reduction has not been a major topic of discussion within the emergency vehicle lighting equipment industry. With a weight near 30 pounds, little effort has been made in putting today’s hefty lightbar on a strict diet through the use of alternative, lightweight materials. Significantly contributing to the weight issue is the thick, extruded metal base and top cover used in the industry’s leading lightbars, very similar to 10 years ago.
SoundOff Signal® is taking the lead from major auto manufacturers by reducing the weight of our newest product designs. The nForce® lightbar, for example, was developed with a lightweight, high-strength dual I-beam extruded aluminum base that efficiently utilizes material and is structurally solid to stand up to a rugged use environment. This structure is encapsulated with a high-strength, lightweight polymer top cover, the same material used in the rugged SUV roof rack of the Nissan Xterra®. The result? Overall weight reduction is substantial. When compared to the industry’s leading extruded metal lightbar, nForce weighs in at nearly 25 percent less.
Every ounce that is removed from a vehicle increases m.p.g. and positively affects handling performance and top-end speed. In addition to substantial weight reduction, the lightweight polymer envelope allowed SoundOff Signal’s design team to develop a top cover with a unique aerodynamic shape that reduces drag, diminishes lift-force, eliminates wind noise and reduces fuel consumption.
New materials also allowed the team to create a progressive and refreshing appearance that surpasses the conspicuous, boxy lightbar of yesterday. This “next generation design” features dynamic angles, crisp edges and sleek silhouettes that integrate with the newly designed police vehicles of today.
[iv] Holmes, Jake, GM CEO Akerson Promises 200-Mile Electric Car, 15-Percent Weight Loss, March 7, 2013. Retrieved from http://m.motortrend.com.
[v] Bullis, 2013.