Lightweight technology for the mighty Atom
Autocar award: Ariel Motors
Simon Saunders, the founder of Ariel Motor Company, one of the UK’s smallest motor manufacturers, has received the prestigious Sturmey Award for innovation from Autocar.
The company, based at Crewkerne in Somerset, produces around 100 vehicles a year, but has been spearheading development of lightweight structures and other novel weight-saving technologies.
Six of the company’s 25-strong workforce are involved in research and development activities, a number of the projects being supported by Innovate UK.
A developmental version of the company’s iconic Atom sports car is currently the testbed for a ground-breaking titanium chassis and other weight-saving innovations.
40% reduction in chassis mass
Titanium is corrosion-resistant and has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal, as strong as some steels but 45% lighter. However welding is a specialist process and has previously proved too expensive or difficult for use in automotive construction.
Ariel teamed up with two other small businesses – Caged Laser Engineering in nearby Frome and Reynolds Technology in Birmingham – to tackle the issues around titanium structures.
The project was funded by Innovate UK and by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles and the Department for Business Innovation & Skills through the Niche Vehicle Network (NVN) R&D programme.
Using an oxygen-free chamber for welding titanium, they achieved a 40% reduction in chassis mass for the lightweight Ti Ariel Atom Chassis, equating to a 9% saving in vehicle weight, while retaining the structural qualities of the chassis.
Lightweight wiring harness
Installing a lightweight wiring harness in the development version of the Atom car has brought the component’s weight down from 9.5kg to 1.25kg, a significant saving, as Ariel’s chief executive and founder, Simon Saunders pointed out:
Although it’s only eight kilos, it’s appreciable that if the idea was taken up by a large manufacturer and you could replicate that percentage on a Range Rover for example, which might have a 100kg harness, there could be some colossal weight savings.
The lightweight wiring harness is a product of LEAP (Lightweight Electrical Architecture Prototype), another project involving the Niche Vehicle Network (NVN), an association of more than 400 small companies who are both competitors and collaborators.
Advanced hybrid technologies
Ariel is currently working on further R&D projects and has been awarded Innovate UK funding totalling more than £900,000 for projects focused on advanced hybrid technologies, electric vehicle batteries and a flexible, lightweight automotive suspension concept. Simon added:
Innovate UK and NVN have been very supportive of our R&D projects. As well as projects such as the lightweight titanium chassis and wiring harness, Ariel is currently involved in part-funded multi-million-pound projects looking at new and disruptive technologies.
This assistance means that we, as well as other British companies, will be world leaders in the fast changing world of automotive technology, putting the UK at the front of innovation.