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Excellence in Optimization: How Grede Uses Lightweighting to Drive Cost Savings and Sustainability in the Castings Industry

July 13, 2022

Manufacturing commercial vehicles, heavy trucks and industrial machines that are strong yet energy-efficient requires careful analysis and an expert team of engineers. 

To achieve that balancing act, Grede employs a process called lightweighting, which is used to analyze, design and reconfigure parts so that they maintain their strength and durability while using as little material as necessary. 

“The lightweighting process is all about optimization — using the least amount of material and balancing the requirements for fit, form, function and manufacturability,” says Jeff Paxton, manager of product engineering with Grede. 

The result? Cost savings for customers, optimized parts and strong, energy-efficient vehicles that are better for the environment. 

What Does the Lightweighting Process Entail? 

For automotive lightweighting, Grede engineers use software to analyze a part to help identify the materials and features that are critical, as well as those that are not. Once the analysis is complete, product engineers can begin to design or redesign a part.   

In some instances, an analysis may reveal that a product’s weight is not optimally distributed. So, rather than take weight out of the part, the best course of action may be to first redesign the product to redistribute weight for maximum performance and then look for weight-saving opportunities. 

“Imagine a house with two walls built with two-by-two wooden studs and the other two with two-by-six studs — one pair of walls is going to be a lot stronger than the other. It may be better to make all four with two-by-fours,” Paxton says. 

Reducing Costs, Improving Performance Through Lightweighting 

A major component of lightweighting is about reducing costs for customers. 

For example, Grede’s engineering teams recently reduced the weight of an axle carrier for a popular light vehicle truck by nearly 14% — resulting in an average $3 million cost savings per year, exemplifying just how big an impact an optimized part can have. 

“Grede commands a large market share in light vehicle and commercial vehicle carriers, and from a lightweighting standpoint, that’s where our customers really see the benefits of our capabilities,” says Justin Milus, director of commercial vehicle sales. “You really see the most bang for your buck when you look into those large, heavy parts.” 

Lightweighting also can benefit a vehicle’s performance. For instance, a passenger vehicle’s primary support structure, called the chassis, bears many stresses of the road and affects steering and handling — much of the comfort of the ride depends on the strength and stiffness of the chassis.

By building such parts with ductile iron and optimizing them through the lightweighting process, Grede reduces the weight of the vehicle while maintaining a smooth, rigid ride. 

Driving Sustainability Through Lightweighting 

Alongside cost reduction, lightweighting has environmental benefits by using fewer resources and creating vehicles that are fuel efficient.   

According to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, a 10% reduction in vehicle weight can result in a 6% to 8% fuel economy improvement.

Using lightweight components and high-efficiency engines in one quarter of the country’s vehicle fleet could save more than 5 billion gallons of fuel annually by 2030, the agency said. 

“Using fewer resources to manufacture lighter cast iron parts means vehicles consume less energy on the road, whether they’re powered by gas or by battery,” says Chris Connors, Grede’s director of e-mobility. “As the automotive industry continues to shift its focus to electric vehicles, lightweighting expertise will remain a key manufacturing capability.” 

Collaboration with Customers Every Step of the Way 

Grede is leading the castings industry through its customer roadshows. 

Through in-person sessions or virtual seminars, Grede engineers work with a customers’ engineering, sales and optimization teams, walking them through Grede’s expertise in the casting process and how the company is optimizing designs for maximum performance. 

The customer roadshows include an open discussion about a customer’s current projects and engineering challenges to understand how Grede can reconfigure their designs to achieve cost savings and weight reductions while maintaining strength. 

“Grede’s customer road shows examine the full design, going beyond the casting process and into the machining process: what are best practices or standard ideas to incorporate so that your machining process is robust, efficient and cost effective,” Paxton says. 

Customers sometimes come to Grede with products featuring suboptimal designs simply because that’s how the part has always been designed, or because that particular design was necessary when the part was made of a different material, like steel or aluminum, rather than ductile iron.

The in-depth roadshow sessions offer a chance to demonstrate that there’s often a better process and design. 

“What distinguishes Grede from many of its competitors is that we have the manufacturing knowledge, the expert personnel and the cutting-edge tools to support our customers with full-scale development, allowing us to analyze our suggestions to verify their functionality before turning those designs over to the customer,” Paxton continued. “Many manufacturers aren’t making similar investments to support customers in that way.” 

Connect with Grede to learn more about its lightweighting capabilities at Grede.com