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8392 (2011)

DOI 10.1007/s1223901100112

12299138/2011/05611

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

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-

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

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-

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

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

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)

ribbing and structures in the conceptual design.

87

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

88

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)

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 ( =

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)

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

89

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.

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

(9)

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)

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

response displacement ( f1), volume ( f2), and stress ( f3).

Out- Interput cept

f1

f2

f3

r2

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

90

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

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)

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

design variables for the main body region.

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%

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

for Cooperative R&D between Industry, Academy, and Research

Institute funded Korea Small and Medium Business Administration.

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Akbulut, H. (2003). On optimization of a car rim using

finite element method. Finite Elements in Analysis and

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Dai, L., Guan, Z. Q., Chen, B. S. and Zhang, H. W. (2008).

An open platform of shape design optimization for shell

structure. Struct. Multidisc. Optim., 35, 609622.

Chen, B. S., Liu, G., Kang, J. and Li, Y. P. (2008). Design

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