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International Journal of Automotive Technology, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp.

8392 (2011)
DOI 10.1007/s1223901100112

Copyright 2011 KSAE


12299138/2011/05611

DEVELOPMENT OF A FIBER-REINFORCED PLASTIC ARMREST


FRAME FOR WEIGHT-REDUCED AUTOMOBILES
H. S. PARK* and X. P. DANG
Lab for Production Engineering, School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering, University of Ulsan,
Ulsan 680-749, Korea
(Received 16 March 2009; Revised 23 July 2010)
ABSTRACTThis paper presents the design optimization process of a short fiber-reinforced plastic armrest frame to
minimize its weight by replacing the steel frame with a plastic frame. The analysis was carried out with the equivalent
mechanical model and design of experiment (DOE) method. Instead of considering the whole structure, it is divided into three
simpler regions to reduce the complexity of the problem through examining its structural characteristics and load conditions.
The maximum stress and deflection of the regions that carry the normal load are calculated by the analytical mathematical
form derived from an equivalent model. The other regions loaded by contact stress are handled by FEM (finite element
method), the DOE method, and the RSM (response surface model). To optimize the design variables in both cases, the object
functions derived from these calculations are solved with a CAE (computer aided engineering) tool. This method clearly
shows the mechanical and mathematical representation of structural optimization and reduces the computing costs. After
design optimization, the weight of the optimum plastic-based armrest frame is reduced by about 18% compared to the initial
design of a plastic frame and is decreased by 50% in comparison with the steel frame. Some prototypical armrest frames were
also made by injection molding and tested. The research results fulfilled all of the design requirements.
KEY WORDS : Armrest frame, Fiber-reinforced plastic, Design optimization, DOE, FEM

1. INTRODUCTION

quired volume of material in design optimization. In


theory, the shape and structural optimization of a complex
part is very complicated, and it requires not only
knowledge, experience, and effort of engineering designers
but also the application of appropriate scientific
methodology. Despite successes in the optimization field
over the past several decades, these breakthroughs are still
difficult to use in practical and industrial applications (Dai
et al., 2007). In general, structural optimization can be
classified as follows: size optimization, shape optimization
and topology optimization. For size optimization, design
variables are the structural aspects such as thickness, width,
height or the section properties of a cross-section in a given
domain. Shape optimization deals with the geometrical
shape of structures. The geometry of the structure is varied
to obtain the optimal structure shape. Topology
optimization is different from size and shape optimization.
This method seeks the optimum distribution of materials or
the existence of an element of the finite element method to
minimize the volume of material and maximize the
stiffness.
In practice, there is no general optimization method for
all the structural optimization process, but various methods
have been adopted. With the recent advancement of the
finite element method to solve a structural optimization
problem for a particular part, engineering designers and
researchers prefer to use FEM and computer-aided engi-

Current automobile manufacturing requires a reduction of


weight not only to increase performance and decrease fuel
consumption but also to reduce manufacturing cost and
strengthen competitiveness (Kim and Yoon, 2007; Park and
Lee, 2007). Saving limited metallic natural resources is
also a trend in sustainable manufacturing. Therefore, using
alternative materials that are cheaper and lighter and that
can be recycled is one practical solution. For automotive
accessories, the armrest frame, which is conventionally
made of steel, is one object that could be constructed with
plastic. This requirement originates from the demands of
the automotive industry.
The advantages of plastic materials, especially fiber-reinforced plastics, include being light-weight and well-adapted
to mass production methods as well as having low manufacturing costs and superior mechanical properties (Fu et
al., 2000; Thomason, 2002; Park and Pham, 2009). The
other important advantage is good molding characteristics,
allowing the designer to design the product they desire in
terms of shape and structure.
In addition to choosing appropriate material, structural
optimization is also an important task to minimize the re*Corresponding author. e-mail: phosk@ulsan.ac.kr
83

84

H. S. PARK and X. P. DANG

neering (CAE) in conjunction with optimization strategies.


One of the most popular methods is the design of experiment (DOE), in which design variables are considered as
the factors. In the DOE method applied to structural
optimization, FEM code is utilized to implement the
structural analysis. After that, the approximation response
surface is constructed from the design matrix and analysis
results by using the least squares method (Akbulut, 2003;
Han et al., 2004; Schfer and Finke, 2007; Chen et al.,
2008). The DOE method is easy to use and can be applied
to most design optimization problems. Researchers and
engineering designers have tended to adopt DOE in design
practice (Park, 2007).
In this paper, the design process, as well as a new approach for the optimization process, of a fiber-reinforced
plastic armrest frame are presented. In the conceptual design
state, best initial design was determined by a relative comparison method and by considering the manufacturing attributes of the product. The structural optimization process
was then carried out by using a combination of the analytical equivalent mechanical model, DOE method, FEM and
numerical optimization.

2. DESCRIPTION OF AN ARMREST FRAME


AND DESIGN SPECIFICATIONS
2.1. Description of an Armrest Frame
An armrest is a feature found in most modern and comfortable cars and provides passengers a place to rest their
arms. Many cars have a broad armrest between the back
seats, which may be folded out when the central (third)
seating area is not required. Armrests in some vehicles may
be also equipped with further convenient accessories such
as cup holders, audio or air-conditioner controls, and
storage compartments. Today, the rear center armrest with
cup holder is an important feature that some car
manufacturers highlight in their advertising, for example,
the Sonata and Elantra from Hyundai, the Altima from

Figure 1. Rear center armrest with a cup-holder.

Nissan, the Lincoln Town from Ford, and the Civic from
Honda. The armrest has a steel frame that is surrounded by
soft polyurethane foam and an outer leather layer. Figure 1
shows an armrest with a cup holder on the back seat of a
car. In the armrest, the frame is the most important part
because it carries the load, and it is often made by forming
sheet metal.
2.2. Design Specifications
Formerly, a steel armrest frame made of 2-mm-thick sheet
metal was used to carry the load. It was blamed for the
heavy weight and high manufacturing cost because of its
long manufacturing process that includes punching, stamping and welding. In an attempt to reduce the weight and
manufacturing cost, the steel frame should be redesigned
with plastics or plastic-based materials. With these new
materials, the weight of the product will be reduced, and
the manufacturing productivity will be increased through
the application of the injection molding process. In
addition, another requirement is that the frame structure
should be optimized to fulfill the design conditions but
minimize the volume of required material.
Figure 2 shows the loads that the frame carries. The
critical working condition occurs when the armrest is laid
down in a horizontal position. In this case, it is fixed at the
left end by the four short pins, and the applied force acts on
the right end. To ensure the fail-safety of the armrest
according to safety standards, the frame must be strong
enough to support an 800-N distributed load located at a
distance of 20 mm from the right free end.
The yield strength of steel is approximately five to ten
times higher than that of common plastics (250 MPa compared to 20~55 MPa). Therefore, the plastic frame must be
five to ten times thicker than the steel one (approximately
10~20 mm in thickness) if the structure is the same as the
steel frame. Of course, this thickness prohibits the use of
shell-type plastic products for this purpose, and, therefore,
structural optimization should be carried out to reduce the
thickness.
The region on the right side of the frame where the cup
holder is assembled should be retained. However, the main
body region in the middle can be modified to increase the
strength and stiffness of the frame. On the armrest frame,
there are also two metal insert pins in each side at the left

Figure 2. Steel armrest frame and its load condition.

DEVELOPMENT OF A FIBER-REINFORCED PLASTIC ARMREST FRAME FOR WEIGHT-REDUCED

85

end that are used to fit the armrest to the seat frame. Thus,
it is an important region where contact stress occurs. The
contact stress must be less than the yield stress to ensure
that the joins between the metal pins and plastics are not
broken. The deflection of the frame is also considered
because it affects the quality of the frame. Therefore, these
parameters should be reduced as much as possible.
In this research, structural optimization was the most
important task. The problem was how to minimize the
weight and deflection of the frame while keeping the stress
below an allowable value. The following sections present
the optimization method applied to the design of the plastic
armrest frame.

3. PROPOSED DESIGN OPTIMIZATION METHOD


Optimization is a complicated procedure for most engineering designers, and this process always includes a complex algorithm and a number of iterations until convergence criteria are satisfied. As mentioned in Section 1,
there are some practical methods that deal with structural
optimization, and none of them are generally suitable and
multi-purpose. Each method has its own advantages and
disadvantages depending on particular circumstances of
structure, load, and boundary conditions. Whichever
structural optimization method is used, in general, FEM is
always an indispensable tool of structural analysis that
supports the structural optimization process. For this
reason, FEM is applied in the proposed method.
To make the optimization process easier, flexible, and
effective, the proposed structural optimization method also
adopts the DOE and FEM methods. However, instead of
applying the DOE method for the whole model, as is
usually done, DOE is only applied to a partial model, and
another method, called the equivalent mechanical model
method, is used for the remaining portion of the model.
Thus, the combination of DOE and the equivalent mechanical model method is applied to combine the advantages
of each method. To apply the proposed method, the designed part is divided into simpler sub-regions based on their
shape and load condition. The DOE method and equivalent
mechanical model method are used simultaneously
depending on the shape and load characteristics of each
region. The optimization process is split into two branches
as shown in Figure 3.
In this design, for example, the armrest frame is divided
into three main regions, including one contact stress region
and two bending stress regions. The contact stress occurs in
the region that has two insert pins. In this case, it is difficult
to construct the explicit contact stress equation that serves
as the constraint function for optimization. Thus, the best
way to perform optimization is to use the DOE method and
post DOE method, which includes approximating the response surface model and then conducting an optimization
search based on this approximate equation to find the
optimum design variables of this region. In contrast, the

Figure 3. Systematic design optimization procedure.


main body region and cup-holder region that carry bending
load can be modeled as popular models in solid mechanics
by using an equivalent mechanical model. Then, explicit
equations that describe stress and deflection can be easily
derived. This system of equations serves directly as objective functions and constraint functions for the optimization
process.
The improvement of the proposed method compared to
the conventional method is its computing effectiveness.
This method of structural optimization also shows the
mechanics and mathematics clearly based on basic and
explicit solid mechanical equations. The complexity of the
model is reduced significantly due to sub-region division.
When using DOE on each region that has relative
independence, the number of design variables or design
points is significantly reduced, exploiting the advantages of
the DOE method. For the region that can be transformed
into the equivalent mechanical model, the explicit
equations that describe stress at critical cross-section
positions and deflection at concerned positions are
formulated. Therefore, the optimization problem is solved
rapidly and precisely by the numerical method without
rebuilding and reanalyzing the 3D model as a totally FEMbased method.

86

H. S. PARK and X. P. DANG

The proposed structural optimization method has the advantages of ease of use, reliability, and low computing cost.
With these considerations, the systematic procedure for
designing the plastic armrest frame is presented in Figure 3,
and the main steps of this process are described in more
detail in the following section.

4. SYSTEMATIC PROCEDURE FOR DESIGN


OPTIMIZATION
4.1. Material Selection
The plastic material chosen must have light weight and
reasonable cost. For this reason, polypropylene (PP) is the
first candidate because it is the most popular and cheap
plastic. However, according to preliminary analysis, the deflection of the armrest made of PP plastics is extremely
high because of its low elastic modulus (about one hundred
times smaller than that of steel). Material with a low elastic
modulus causes a high deflection. To satisfy the design
specifications, the thickness of the armrest must be
increased. Consequently, it wastes material. The deflection
is in an inverse ratio to the elastic modulus and moment
inertia of the cross-section. The cross-section optimization
can increase the moment of inertia, but it cannot compensate for the stiffness when the elastic modulus is too low.
Table 1 shows the mechanical properties of some common
plastics and fiber-reinforced thermal plastics.
ABS and PA-6,6 have good mechanical strength and a
high elastic modulus compared to PP, but they are expensive and, therefore, are not good choices. Fiber-reinforced
thermal plastics are the best solution because of their superior mechanical properties. The trend in the automotive
industry is for car makers to increase their use of reinforced
plastics to reduce weight and manufacturing costs. Furthermore, fiber-reinforced thermal plastics are easily recycled
or re-used at the end of the service life of a vehicle to
protect the environment (Reinforced Plastics, 2004).
There are several kinds of fiber-reinforced thermal
plastics in terms of fiber length and fiber direction. They
include short fiber-reinforced, long fiber-reinforced, fiber
mat-rein-forced, and continuous fiber-reinforced plastics.
From the short fiber to continuous fiber reinforced plastics,
the mechanical properties improve rapidly, but the time
consumed and manufacturing cost increase while the
design freedom decreases because of the molding
characteristics, such as the viscosity, molding pressure and
filling ability. Among these fiber-reinforced plastics, short
fiber-reinforced plastics that have an average fiber length
of less than 1 mm can satisfy the injection molding
requirement in mass production.
The popular short fiber-reinforced thermal plastics are
compound of polypropylene or PA-6,6 with glass fibers
(GF) or carbon fibers. Although the compound of polypropylene and short glass fiber offers lower tensile strength
and elastic modulus than other compounds (see Table 1), it
is the least expensive. Moreover, short glass fiber-rein-

Table 1. Mechanical properties of some common plastics


and fiber reinforced plastics.
Materials
Polypropylene (PP)
PA-6,6
PVC-rigid
ABS
PA-6,6 +33%GF
PP+30%GF

Tensile
strength
(MPa)

Elastic
modulus
(GPa)

Density
(g/cm)

36
83
44
99
130
72

1.6
2.8
2.7
2.3
7.5
4.9

0.91
1.14
1.40
1.18
1.39
1.12

Figure 4. Weld line position (a) and fiber direction (b) in


the armrest frame after injection molding.
forced PP has excellent mechanical properties in comparison with pure PP (tensile strength doubles and elastic
modulus triples). Short glass fiber-reinforced PP plastics
are the best choice of material for making the armrest
frame.
The compound of short glass fiber and polypropylene is
a kind of composite material; therefore, it is not isotropic.
The tensile strength of PP with 30 wt% short glass fiber,
shown in Table 1, was measured in the fiber direction.
Many studies point out that the fiber direction coincides
with flow direction in the injection molding process (Fu et
al., 2000; Zhou and Mallick, 2005). The strength of short
fiber-reinforced plastic in the direction normal to the flow
direction or in the weld line zone is lower than that in the
flow direction. This characteristic must be taken into account
in the design optimization process of the armrest frame.
Figure 4 shows the fiber direction and weld line position in
the armrest that was analyzed using Moldflow plastic
simulation. In addition, the mechanical properties of short
glass fiber-reinforced plastics vary with the production process conditions, the resin properties, and the average fiber
length. In other words, there are many factors that affect the
real strength of this material. These factors were taken into
consideration when choosing the design safety factor.
4.2. Conceptual Design
To choose the best initial design for the optimization step, a
conceptual design was carried out. At first, some models of
the armrest frames were built using parametric CAD based
on the function, performance requirements, dimensional
constraints, and load conditions of the frame. These models

DEVELOPMENT OF A FIBER-REINFORCED PLASTIC ARMREST FRAME FOR WEIGHT-REDUCED

were then analyzed to identify their volume, stress, and


deflection. Normally, these steps require the designers intuition and experience in the design, mechanics and strength
of materials to determine the best initial design. To overcome these disadvantages, analytic and relative comparison methods were used in the conceptual design.
The manufacturing attributes such as the molding process and tooling cost were also considered in depth. A
simpler structure of the frame was preferred over a complicated one. Because of the characteristic of the product,
the inside region of the main body of the frame should be
hollow to allow the insertion of polyurethane foam around
the frame. As mentioned in Section 2, the cup-holder region
must be kept because of the cup-holder function. However,
the main body in the middle of the frame (see Figure 2)
could be constructed in any configuration in its design space.
It is true that, for plastic parts, the best way to increase
stiffness is ribbing (Rosato, 2003). Increasing the number
of ribs can increase the stiffness of the model, but it also
increases the weight. Rib patterns or arrangement also affect
the stiffness and weight of the model. Figure 5 shows twelve
frame models with various ribbing patterns. Based on the
ribbing principle, the twelve models were selected according to designers intuition and experience. After modeling
various models with various structures, the next step is analyzing the stress and deflection and calculating the volume
of each model by using FEM software. To determine which
model is the best in terms of strength, stiffness, and volume
of materials, the relative compare method was used. Although
asymmetrical bending is not the load condition of the design,
this new load case was added to assess the additional quality
of the frame under torsion. An arbitrary model was chosen
as a benchmarking model - a model to which the others are
compared. The relative values of the volume, stress, and
deflection of other models that compare to the benchmarking model were calculated by the following formula:
Vi VbmRi = 100% + ---------------100%
Vbm

(1)

Figure 5. Relative stress, deflection, and volume of various


ribbing and structures in the conceptual design.

87

where Ri is the relative value of the volume, stress, or


deflection. Vi and Vbm are the absolute values of the volume,
stress, or deflection of the i-th model and benchmarking
model, respectively.
The relative comparison results of twelve models in
terms of the conceptual design, in which the Model 1 is the
benchmarking model, are shown in Figure 5. The model
whose weighted sum of relative volume, deflection, and
volume is smaller than the others is the best one. The
weight factors are determined depending on the function of
the designed part and the optimization target. In this design
optimization research, the volume of material is more
important in making the design economical. Therefore, the
weighting of volume should be higher than stress or deflection. Figure 5 shows that the Models 7 and 8 are the two
candidates that need to be considered thoroughly to
determine the best model at the end. Although Model 8 has
a smaller relative stress and deflection than Model 7, its
relative volume is greater. If the weight factor is assigned to
be 2.0 for the relative volume and 1.0 for the relative stress
and deflection, the weighted sum of all relative specifications of Model 7 is smaller than those of Model 8 (619
compared to 625). Thus, Model 7 is the best initial model
and is ready for the next steps in design optimization.
4.3. Equivalent Model Construction
To make the optimization process more convenient, an
equivalent model is built and analyzed instead of the original
model. The geometry of the equivalent mechanical model
may not be the same as the real one, but the stress and deflection at critical cross sections and positions are similar.
The load and moment acting on these critical cross-sections
of the equivalent model must be the same as those of the
real model. In addition, the real model is also divided into
simpler regions or sub-domains, and the optimization process is carried out progressively. This approach can change
a complex structural optimization problem into a simple one.
In this design optimization, the armrest frame was divided

Figure 6. Regional divisions of the armrest frame.

88

H. S. PARK and X. P. DANG

into three regions: the cup-holder region, main body region


and inserted pin region as shown in Figure 6. This division
was done based on examining the shape, structure, and
load condition of the frame.
4.3.1. Equivalent models of the main body region and cupholder region
The load characteristics of the cup-holder region and main
body region are the same because they both carry bending
load. These regions can be replaced by an equivalent model
as a cantilever beam with equivalent cross-sections in the
aspect of stress at critical cross-sections (Section A-A for
the main body region and Section B-B for the cup-holder
region) and deflection at load position (Figure 7). The
bending stress reaches the maximum value at these crosssections in each region; therefore, ensuring the structural
strength at these important positions will satisfy the strength
of both regions. As the result, structural optimization focus
on the size optimization of the cross-section, and the optimization problem becomes less complicated.
The design variables are determined based on geometrical parameters of important cross-sections. The stress is
calculated as
My
= ---------1
(2)
I
where M, y1, and I are the bending moment, the distance
from the neutral axis to the upper edge of cross-section,
and the second moment of inertia, respectively. For the
cross-section A-A of the main body region in Figure 7,
intermediate parameters are computed by the following
equations:
M = PL

(3)

2
1

h
t
h
4t1 ---- +2t3( b 2t1 ) h1 h4 ---3 +2 t2h2 h1 h3 ----2
2
2
2
y1= -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------A
A=2[ 2t1 h1+ t2 h2+ ( b 2t1 )t3 ]
4
2
Ix= --- t1 h31+ --- ( b 2t1 )[ ( h1 h4 )3 ( h1 h4 t3)3]
3
3
2
+ --- t2 [ ( h1 h3 )3 ( h1 h3 h2 )3 ]
3
I=IxAy

2
1

(4)
(5)
(6)

(7)

where A and Ix are the area of cross-section and the second


moment of inertia to the axis at the upper edge of the crosssection, respectively.
The coefficient in Equations (4), (5), and (6) is added
to adjust the role of the two longitudinal ribs in carrying the
bending moment. The reason is that the frame is only fixed
at the left end by two short metal pins instead of long rigid
pins through both sides. This coefficient ensures the equivalence between the real model and equivalent model, and
it is calculated by solving one unknown Equation (2) in
which the value of on the left hand side comes from the
stress analysis result of the initial model using FEM ( =

Figure 7. Equivalent model for calculating the stress at


critical cross-sections and the deflection at the load position.
0.52). For the cross-section of the cup-holder, the mechanical equations are similar to the equations above.
The displacement is computed based on the equivalent
model of deflection at the load position. Because the crosssection of the beam varies not only with the height but also
with the shape, the discrete method is used to calculate
deflection. The construction of this model assumes that the
effect of the cross ribs on the deflection of the model in the
longitudinal direction is insignificant. The function of these
ribs is to increase the buckling strength and stiffness in the
transverse direction. Figure 7 shows the discrete model to
determine the deflection of the model. The maximum deflection at the bending force position of the armrest frame
is computed as follows:

Pl i (i 1)
= ------ -----------------------
3

3E i = 1

Ii

(8)

where E and Ii are the Youngs modulus and second moment


of inertia of segment i, respectively.
4.3.2. Equivalent models of the contact stress region
The contact stress is difficult to analyze, and it requires a
large amount of time to calculate. The contact stress only
appears in material zones around the metal pins, so there is
no need to calculate the contact stress using Abaqus FEM
code for the whole model. To accelerate the computing
speed, an idealized equivalent model was built to reduce
the geometrical complication and the number of elements.
The method of transforming a real model into idealized
equivalent model based on the principle of the force and
moment acting on the metal inserts in the real model and
the mechanical behavior of the idealized model are the
same as that for the real model. Figure 8 illustrates the
equivalent contact stress model of the armrest frame. There
are two design variables, the width b and radii R, that affect

DEVELOPMENT OF A FIBER-REINFORCED PLASTIC ARMREST FRAME FOR WEIGHT-REDUCED

89

4.4.1. Optimization of the contact stress region


For contact stress regions where two steel pins are inserted
in plastics, there are two design variables, r and b (see
Figure 8), that are called factors in DOE (Park, 2007).
Because the number of factors is low, the full-factorial
technique was used to carry out the simulation. The design
matrix for two factors with three levels is shown in Table 2.
Nine design points, in other words, nine models in design
space, were constructed and were then analyzed by FEM to
determine the contact stress and deformation in the joint
between the steel pins and plastic material.
The approximate response surface models for volume
( f1), displacement ( f2) and stress ( f3) with two factors r and
b are in the form of quadratic polynomials:
Figure 8. Equivalent model for analyzing the contact stress
and deformation in the region around the inserted pins.
the maximum contact stress and deformation or deflection
in this region. This method significantly reduces the computing cost in analysis, and computer simulation time is
reduced when the design optimization method with FEM
and DOE is employed.
4.4. Optimization Process
As demonstrated in Section 3, the structural optimization
process is divided into two sections:
DOE is employed to systematically organize the experiments. FEM is then used to analyze the results, followed
by building a response surface model. Finally, mathematical optimization is carried out.
Direct explicit mechanical equations that serve as objective functions and constraint functions are derived, and
the optimization problem is subsequentially solved by
the numerical method.
The DOE method is applied for the optimization of the
contact stress region, and the direct equivalent mechanical
model approach is used for the optimization of the main
body and cup-holder regions progressively.

Table 2. Design matrix of inputs r and b and analysis results.


Experir
b
Volume Displacement Stress
(mm)
(MPa)
ment No. (mm) (mm) (cm3)
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9

15.0
15.0
15.0
18.5
18.5
18.5
22.0
22.0
22.0

15.0
20.0
25.0
15.0
20.0
25.0
15.0
20.0
25.0

50
58
86
60
82
104
71
96
122

1.01
0.78
0.71
0.84
0.63
0.51
0.75
0.56
0.54

44.2
37.8
36.7
38.8
34.7
34.0
36.7
33.5
31.2

fi = i, 0 + i,1r+ i,2b+ i,3r2+ i,4 b2+ i,5 rb

(9)

The coefficients of the response equations were calculated


by the least squares method. Table 3 shows the value of the
coefficients of Equation (9). R squared, which is called the
coefficient of the determinant, is displayed in the last column
and is based on the following formula:

( y f )
i

R = 1 -------------------------2
( y i yi )

(10)

where yi, yi , and fi are the observed values, mean of


observed values, and approximative values, respectively.
R squared is close to 1, which means that the goodness
of fit of the approximate models is very high.
To observe the influence of factors on the response more
visually, the graphs of the response surface model are
shown in Figure 9. The optimization process was carried
out based on a system of equations from the response
surface model. The optimization problem for the contact
stress region is

Table 3. Coefficients for inputs of the DOE model for


response displacement ( f1), volume ( f2), and stress ( f3).
Out- Interput cept
f1
f2
f3

r2

81.88 14.17 21.83 0.17


0.59 0.11 0.13 0.06
34.76 2.88 2.96 0.85

b2

rb

R
squared

0.17
0.10
1.60

3.75
0.01
0.50

0.999
0.952
0.977

Figure 9. Graph of displacement and stress responses.

90

H. S. PARK and X. P. DANG

minimize f1 and f2
(11a)
subject to f3 38
(11b)
15 r 22; 15 b 25
(11c)
This problem is a multi-objective optimization process
that minimizes the volume ( f2) and displacement ( f1) of the
contact region model while keeping the stress below the
allowable value of 38 MPa. The permitted design strength
of the material in the direction that is perpendicular to fiber
direction was chosen for the contact stress region with a
safety factor of 1.25.
Multi-objective optimization was solved using the multiobjective genetic algorithm (MOGA) (Osyczka, 2002). To
solve this MOGA conveniently, the iSight tool was used.
For multi-objective optimization, there are many trade-off
solutions before choosing the one that best suits the design
requirements. The volume is the most important objective
function that affects the economical effects of the optimization results. For this reason, the preferred optimum point
was selected to minimize the volume rather than the deflection. The optimum values of the design variables were
chosen as r = 16.9 mm and b = 16.7 mm, and they were
rounded to r = 17 mm and b = 17 mm.
4.4.2. Optimization of the main body and cup-holder region
The structural optimization of the main body and cupholder region were changed to cross-section optimization
with the equivalent mechanical model. The cup-holder
region at the free end of the frame is simpler than the main
body region because its cross-section has a U-shaped form.
Its design variables include t, t4, h, and b (see Figure 7), in
which t4 = 2.5 mm, h = 40 mm, and b = 170 mm are predetermined and fixed according to the reasonable size and

shape of the frame. The thickness t is derived and rounded


up to 3.5 mm without a special optimization procedure.
Therefore, the main optimization task focuses on the optimization of cross-section of the main body region. Whenever
the area of cross-section is minimized, the material is also
minimized. The deflection is another design specification
for which there is no given critical value. However, it should
be minimized to improve the quality of the frame. The
maximum stress at the critical cross-section must be less
than the allowable stress of the material (41 MPa) in the
fiber direction with a safety factor k. The optimization problem is stated as follows:
Minimize A=2[ 2t1 h1 + t2h2 + ( b 2t1 )t3 ]
n
Pl 3 i3 ( i 1 )3
and = -------- -----------------------
3E i = 1
Ii

subject to

My
I

(12a)
(12b)

= ---------1 41

(12c)

2.5 t1 4.5; 2.0 t2 4.0; 50 h1 58;


20 h2 30; 10 h3 15; 10 h4 20
t3 = 2.5; b = 17

(12d)
(12e)

The problem described by Equations (12) is a multiobjective optimization problem, so it was also solved using
the MOGA method to obtain engineering data mining.
Figure 10 shows the Pareto plots or trade-off between the
stress and area as well as between the deflection and area.
Darker points (blue points in color printing) are possible
optimum points. However, decreasing the area of crosssection, in other words, reducing the volume of material, is
more important than reducing the deflection. Therefore, the
final optimum point (the small square point in Figure 10)
was chosen. At this point, the values of the design variables
are t1 = 2.5 mm, t2 = 2.0 mm, h1 = 57.5 mm, h2 = 21 mm, h3
= 15 mm, and h4 = 10 mm. The outputs (responses) are the
maximum stress at the critical cross-section A-A = 34.3
MPa and the deflection at the load position = 10.6 mm.
4.5. Verification Results
The results of mathematical optimization are, of course,
reliable. However, there are always some errors when
changing from the real model to the equivalent model due
to some simplified assumptions and the method of choosing design variables. As a result, it is necessary to verify

Figure 10. Pareto plots used to determine the final optimum


design variables for the main body region.

Figure 11. Stress analysis result of the armrest frame.

DEVELOPMENT OF A FIBER-REINFORCED PLASTIC ARMREST FRAME FOR WEIGHT-REDUCED

Table 4. Comparison of results between the equivalent


model method and FEM analysis.
Outputs
Stress (MPa)
Deflection (mm)

Equivalent
Finite
Relative
model method
element
result
analysis result error
34.3
10.6

34.9
10.3

1.7%
2.9%

the outcome of the equivalent model method by finite


element analysis. After solving the mathematical optimization problem, the optimum values of design variables
were used to update the model, and this model was
analyzed again by FEM to check the stress distribution,
deflection, and error between the equivalent and real
models. Figure 11 illustrates the stress analysis result of the
optimum model. The stress is distributed uniformly along
the length of the main body region, and the maximum
stress is allowable.
The stress, deflection, and error analysis results between
the equivalent model based on solid mechanics and the real
model based on FEM are shown in Table 4. The errors are
less than 2.9%, and these errors are acceptable in practical
mechanical engineering. Therefore, the loop of the structural optimization process terminated without iteration (see
Figure 3), and the computing time was reduced, which is
the advantage of the equivalent mechanical model method.
It is clear that the structure of the armrest frame has
reached its optimum state for three reasons: the stress is
distributed uniformly, the model was built from the optimum
design parameters, and the errors between the equivalent
model and the real model are small.
The volume of the initial model decreases significantly
from 381 cm3 to 311 cm3 (a reduction of 18.3%), and the

Figure 12. Prototypical model of a short carbon fiberreinforced PP plastic armrest frame.

91

stress and deflection are reduced from 38.7 MPa and 11.7
mm to 34.9 MPa and 10.3 mm, respectively, after optimization. Compared to the former steel armrest frame, the
total weight of the plastic-based frame, which includes the
metal inserted pins, decreases from 1.0 kg to 0.498 kg (a
reduction of 50%).
Some prototypical armrest frames were made by injection molding to check the manufacturability and to verify
their strength (see Figure 12). A simple method of testing
the strength of the armrest frames was carried out by using
a jig to fix the pins and a set of weights to create the
bending load. Perceptible observation and the estimation of
the manufacturing expenditure were also conducted. The
results showed that the new plastic armrest frame meets
economical and technical requirements. Mass production
will be launched soon.

5. CONCLUSION
The development of a short fiber-reinforced polypropylene
armrest frame contributes to the reduction of the weight
and manufacturing cost of automobiles. Analyzing the robust structure of the armrest frame, establishing equivalent
models, developing explicit objective functions and constraints, solving mathematical optimization, and engineering data mining were carried out to minimize the volume
and increase the strength of the frame. Estimated using the
short-term amortization of the tooling cost, the manufacturing cost was reduced by 5% when the material was
changed from steel to short glass fiber-reinforced polypropylene. This reduction will generate an enormous profit
due to mass production.
In addition to the economical and technical benefit of
design optimization, this study introduces a new structural
optimization approach based on the conventional method
and advanced CAE tools. The flexible combination of DOE,
FEM, the equivalent mechanical model, and numerical
optimization tools makes the structural design optimization
process much easier, more precise, and more reliable. The
computation cost is also reduced by eliminating some of
the iteration steps due to the application of an appropriate
analytical equivalent model.
Finally, as mentioned in the introduction, there is no
general method for solving all optimum design problems,
and this proposed method is not an exception. Because the
optimum design of a plastic armrest frame is a case study
of this proposed method, more applications should be
developed for other optimum design processes in future
research to confirm the effectiveness of this method.
Developing more convenient and accurate methods for
solving shape and structure optimization must be continued
to improve the quality of the structural optimization process. Making a seamless interaction between commercial
optimization software and CAD/CAE systems in the automated design-evaluate-redesign cycle is a potential approach
that will be the object of further research.

92

H. S. PARK and X. P. DANG

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTThis work was supported by Business


for Cooperative R&D between Industry, Academy, and Research
Institute funded Korea Small and Medium Business Administration.

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