Through life assessment of design for lightweighting

The concept of lightweighting is driven by benefits gained from the automotive industry in terms of using materials other than steel, as a basis for reducing the overall vehicle weight, and subsequently reducing the operating costs and operational environmental impact.

Number of places



Home fee, Stipend


24 July 2018


31 May 2019


42 months


Applications are welcome from all.

Applications from Home, Rest of UK and EU students will receive funding of the home fee and stipend.

International Students are welcome to apply but should be aware of the additional funding requirements and will have to provide evidence that they can pay the difference in fees of circa £15k per annum.

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Project Details

Not only will this PhD broaden your horizons, ensure you have a full suite of skills and understanding straight from experts in this field, but will also give your CV a competitive edge upon graduation.

The concept of lightweighting is driven by benefits gained from the automotive industry in terms of using materials other than steel, as a basis for reducing the overall vehicle weight, and subsequently reducing the operating costs and operational environmental impact. The focus is principally towards the selection of materials, however consideration could also be given towards the use of advanced manufacturing processes that add material to high stress areas, and remove from low stress areas. Whilst weight is relatively easily reduced through the use of materials such as carbon fibre, the associated costs realised through the operational use of such materials is currently prohibitive in many cases. Projections however from the automotive industry suggest that future trends in the production of lightweight materials may mean that they become more cost effective, and open new opportunities for use within aerospace and wind power generation.

Many Through Life Assessment techniques are semi-quantitative, relying on generalised rules and guidelines in order to produce an indication of the performance of the product, which is typically measured in terms of its environmental performance only. Small design-driven changes to the underlying product are highly unlikely to result with a variation in the existing Through Life Assessment due to the lack of fidelity in the model, meaning that the designer is subsequently left to intuitively learn and interpret the impact rather than have quantitative guidance.

Given the future potential for application for lightweighting, and the potential benefits from an operational performance perspective, it is advantageous that appropriate support is provided from a high-fidelity tool to guide the lightweighting manufacturing and material oriented decision making of the designers. The research will therefore aim to develop a tool to support design decision making that evaluates the through-life costs of lightweighting options, considering the design, manufacture, in-service, maintenance, reuse, and disposal life-phases. The tool will provide a series of numerical measures that will present the trade-offs between lightweight materials and manufacturing processes which can be easily updated to incorporate advances in both of these areas, and present the information to the designer in a fashion that effectively supports their decision-making.

The research project will use example case studies from automotive, aerospace and wind-power generation to verify the proposed approach, validate the techniques used to provide the through-life assessment, and evaluate its performance in practical applications. It is anticipated that support from the use of such tools will demonstrate that only the most appropriate lightweighting applications are qualified where clear through-life benefit may be achieved.

Funding Details

Funding is available to cover Home Fees and Stipend.  International applicants will have to provide evidence that they can pay the difference in fees of circa £15k per annum


Dr Ian Whitfield

Dr Robert Ian Whitfield has been working with industry delivering world-leading research and knowledge exchange projects for over twenty years. This has covered a broad range of topics which have had significant beneficial impacts in terms of time and cost savings, and improvements in efficiency and effectiveness. Areas of application of his research and knowledge exchange activity include: product data management and product lifecycle management within naval shipbuilding; design process re-engineering within the defence industry; collaborative design environments for shipbuilding; modular architectural design within the defence industry; intelligent integrated maintenance for offshore wind-power generation; and manufacturing process cost estimation within the aerospace industry. His design and systems thinking and engineering skills have allowed him to create innovative and relevant solutions to challenging and high-value industry problems.

Dr Ian Whitfield has vast research experience, having published research within over 60 peer-reviewed articles and has been involved with both the proposal writing, management and conducting of research within a number of large FP5, FP6 and FP7 integrated projects within the shipbuilding industry – typically with between 30 and 50 partners. These projects have each focussed upon the development of collaborative tools and techniques for the integration of distributed design expertise across Europe.

Dr Whitfield is a member of the Institution of Engineering Designers, the Design Society and was awarded top three reviewer of the Journal of Engineering Design. His research interests include: design co-ordination, design for lightweighting, collaborative design, integration, resource management, process modelling and optimisation, product data and product lifecycle management, engineering risk management, and modular design.

He has developed a number of different tools and techniques relating to these research areas that have been used by industry including:

  • modular design tool that models different types of interactions between components or systems of a product which can then be used to optimise the product structure providing a      hierarchical structure that can facilitate assembly (implemented within complex system development industries);
  • design process optimisation tool that models the flow of information within engineering design processes which can then be used for business process re-engineering to reduce rework and management concurrency (used within defence industries);
  • collaborative design environment that integrates product information, design and analysis tools, and expertise and supports distributed collaborative design, version management, product data management, consistency management, and optimisation (used within shipbuilding industries);
  • resource management and optimisation tools and techniques that improve decision making within resource constrained, multi-project environments; and (used within New Product Development industries),
  • an approach to support organisational decision making within large complex engineering design programmes which manages the entire decision process from inception through to reuse (used within defence industries).

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How to apply

Individuals interested in this project should email for information on applying.