Software platform created to streamline automobile design

The Smart fender created using IDEE (Photo: Fraunhofer)

Cars are becoming increasingly complex to produce, with the relatively short intervals between the introductions of new models leaving automakers scrambling to keep up. In an effort to reduce production costs, shorten production times, and quickly introduce new materials and assembly techniques, the European Union launched the Pegasus Project in 2006. The main thrust of the collaborative project has been the creation of the Integrated Design and Engineering Environment (IDEE). It’s a CAD/CAE/CAM software system that lets auto designers draw on an intelligent database, that will figure out the best way for them to implement new designs.

To use IDEE, designers enter the parameters of their new design (such as an updated roof or fender, for instance) into the system. The software then analyzes the product’s functional requirements, selects appropriate building materials, and indicates how it should be made – including how the tools used to make it should be designed.

As a recent test of the system, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology – one of the 23 Pegasus partner organizations – tasked it with devising the most efficient method for creating a fender for a Smart.

One of the key things that IDEE did differently was to select LED tail lights. Not only are the lamps themselves more efficient than their conventional counterparts, but using them reduced the number of tail light parts from eight to five, and the number of processing steps from twelve to five. Also, a carbon nanotube-based electrically conductive polymer was used to channel electricity to the lights, eliminating the need for metallic conductors.

When it comes time to dismantle the tail lights, doing so should be easier thanks to a unique adhesive chosen by IDEE. When irradiated with microwaves, it loses its cohesion, and the parts can be easily separated. This should be particularly useful when sorting the parts for recycling.

One other change involved the use of very evenly-mixing nanoparticle-based pigments in the plastic dye, which reduced the amount of pigment needed to color the fender.

While IDEE is still in the works, it can reportedly already be used to create simple components. It should be ready for use in the auto industry within about a year.

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