Think Reynolds butted frames have only been used in bike frames? Turns out they've been into space and will now be in a car prototype

Cycle technology being used to build lighter cars

Butted tubing technology is being used in a bid to create a lightweight car by Reynolds Technology, Caterham Cars and Simpact.

Butted tubing was originally created for performance and racing cycle frame construction – for those not in the know, it is thicker at the ends than the middle, making the tubes lighter whilst retaining strength in the high stress areas at the ends. The car industry was founded by members of the bicycle industry and they brought with them many technologues from the world of cycling, including tubing, ball bearings and pneumatic tyres.

The modern trio of companies – including Reynolds, which pioneered the double-butted tubing set in 1898 – are combining to build the world’s first lightweight ‘space frame chassis’* in response to the motoring industry’s drive for lower emissions. They aim to present a chassis proving the viability of butted tubing for automotive use by February next year.

"Overall, the automotive industry is under huge pressure to provide more solutions to make vehicles lighter and decrease emissions," said Caterham Cars CTO Simon Lambert. “This is something Caterham has been doing since inception more than 40 years ago, thanks to Colin Chapman’s original ethos of ‘adding lightness’, so we are well-placed to undertake experiments in this are that could benefit the much wider industry.”

Reynolds Technology’s Keith Noronha added: “Our butted tubes have contributed to weight reduction in diverse applications from bicycle frames to NASA spacecraft projects. This project aims to prove that car designers can re-think how to use steel – a sustainable and recycleable material – whilst meeting challenging targets on stiffness and driveability. The Caterham Seven should be the first car to incorporate these innovative aspects.”

Reynolds will provide the tubing technology for the initiative, Simpact will conduct the virtual analysis and testing to fine-tune a chassis design and Caterham will build the first prototype car, based on the frame of its iconic Seven. Grant support for the engineering and development project has been provided by the Niche Vehicle Network, which offers innovation support to the UK’s niche and specialist vehicle manufacturing sector. The Network’s activities are funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

Tim Williams, Director of Simpact, said: “Over the years, we have worked on several space frames that are now iconic. We have a computer model of the Seven chassis and we will put it through its paces in terms of loads and will analyse it in a virtual environment. We can look at its performance and assess which elements of the frame we can alter with the latest developments in butted tubing to enhance its lightweight credentials.

“Our target is to end up with a chassis that delivers a 10% mass saving in weight.”

The technology could also be applied in future to other industries in which weight is an important factor, such as crane design or rollover structures for military vehicles.

*One of our readers has informed us that there has already been a lightweight space frame chassis – Aerocarbon built one in 2003, but from carbon tubes, not steel

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