10 Years Of The Audi Aluminium And Lightweight Design Centre In Neckarsulm

Lightweight design expertise at Audi

Audi founded the Aluminium and Lightweight Design Centre in Neckarsulm ten years ago. This is the birthplace of Audi's lead in lightweight design. Vehicles such as the A8 and A2 were created here.

The production location of the Audi A8 luxury saloon, with its aluminium body, is also where the group's aluminium expertise is based. Audi established the Aluminium Centre in Neckarsulm in 1994 at a cost of some eight million euros. Audi thus pooled its activities in the field of lightweight design ten years ago, bringing together the expertise of the Development, Production Planning and Quality Assurance departments under one roof.

Audi renamed this centre the 'Neckarsulm Aluminium and Lightweight Design Centre' two years ago. The name reflects the fact that research and development activities have long since shifted their focus beyond aluminium. High-strength steels, tailored blanks, reinforced plastics and magnesium are used increasingly at Audi. The systematic implementation of lightweight design in vehicle bodies is securing a noticeable reduction in fuel consumption.

The potential of the materials available for lightweight vehicles will be exploited even more effectively in future. Although aluminium remains the key material in lightweight design, efforts to investigate the scope for using other materials is being stepped up. "My vision is of economical lightweight design for volume production. We need to exploit the potential of materials for lightweight vehicles as effectively as possible and use the right materials in the right place.

Aluminium of course remains the principal material in lightweight design, but we are increasingly looking into the potential of other materials," explains Heinrich Timm, Head of the Aluminium and Lightweight Design Centre and one of the pioneers in the development of aluminium bodies.

The engineers at the Aluminium and Lightweight Design Centre developed vehicles such as the A2 and the A8. Lamborghini also utilised their expertise in the development of the Gallardo high performance sports car. Audi's affirmation of the aluminium vehicle body has moreover had an impact on the steel industry. In response to the development of the first volume-production aluminium body for the Audi A8, steel manufacturers stepped up their efforts to develop high-strength and super-high-strength steels for body manufacturing.

The year that the Aluminium Centre (as it was then known) was established was also the year in which the first A8 left the production line - the first vehicle to feature the Audi Space Frame concept (ASF). The Audi A2 followed in 1999, the first high-volume car with this technology. 2002 saw the creation of the second-generation Audi A8 at the Aluminium and Lightweight Design Centre, while production of the Lamborghini Gallardo sports car began in Sant’Agata, Italy, one year later.

During this period, Audi also developed new production technology. The level of automation in body manufacturing is now 80 per cent. This corresponds to the degree of automation in the production of a conventional steel body. The volume production of aluminium bodies at Neckarsulm is acclaimed industry-wide: the workforce at Neckarsulm has already built around 320,000 vehicles with an aluminium body.

There are currently 110 employees at the Aluminium and Lightweight Design Centre, working on the refinement of Audi's lightweight design expertise. They are instrumental in securing the company's lead in lightweight design and in its development and production.

Published 24 December 2004 Melanie Carter

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