Biology as an Inspiration

... For Automotive Parts.


Tristan Schlotthauer

Institute of Aircraft Design

University of Stuttgart


Applying the Insect Wing Principle to Automotive Side Exterior Mirrors

PRIMA stands for "Porting the structure and function principle of an insect wing for the manufacture of multifunctional automotive applications". Under the aspect of the biologization of technology, the structure and function of the insect wing will therefore serve as inspiration to optimize the automotive side exterior mirror in an exemplary manner.

Biologization of Technology - Inspiration Insect Wing

An insect wing is characterized by an extremely lightweight yet stable cellular structure and is a recurring and widely adopted solution in the world of insects. In addition to its lightweight properties, the vein-like structure additionally takes over the control and supply of the insect wing. A transfer of this multifunctional approach from nature offers new possibilities in the design, construction and manufacturing of extremely lightweight, yet fault-tolerant technical structures.

Projekt Goal of PRIMA

The PRIMA project aims to demonstrate the optimization of an automotive side wing mirror using the insect wing principle. To accomplish this, the Institute of Aircraft Design at the University of Stuttgart is collaborating with CIKONI GmbH on new, innovative design and manufacturing principles.

By using a novel manufacturing principle in combination with additive manufacturing processes, an arbitrary, three-dimensional structure is to be reinforced via fiber composites. This allows for the first time to manufacture complex bionic structures inspired by nature in a fiber composite construction.

The Biological Principle of the Insect Wing

The truss-like insect wing consists of many branched veins covered by a fine membrane. In the event of a rupture of the membrane, it can only reach the edge of the cell and is stopped there. This allows an insect to remain capable of flight even if the wing is injured. When the insect hatches, the veins are initially mostly hollow, allowing the wing to unfold. Subsequently, the veins are filled and harden to stiffen the wing.

Bionic Structure for the interfacing of a lightweight gripper. © CIKONI GmbH.

Transfer of the Basic Principle to the Automobile

PRIMA aims to use this basic principle to reinforce plastic-based components by means of a fiber composite material. Carbon fibers are to be used for a high degree of weight optimization. Theoretically, these exhibit good electrical conductivity. Therefore, in the sense of a multifunctional structure, the contacting of additional mirror elements, such as the actuators, is to be investigated. If this is successful, an engineered membrane can be connected to the supporting structure in the next step to realize the aerodynamic properties of the side mirror. If a crack occurs in the membrane of the side mirror during the service life, its growth should be limited to one cell of the supporting structure, analogous to the insect wing.

Optimization of Automotive Production Based on the Results of PRIMA

If this multifunctional design and manufacturing principle proves to be feasible, significant weight reductions and resource savings of components can be achieved for the mobility of the future. On the one hand, the amount of material required is reduced by using a lightweight structure, and on the other hand, the lower weight saves energy in moving the vehicle. This will contribute to the protection of the environment and increase the range of vehicles. The multifunctional structure can also be expected to reduce assembly costs. This can promote simpler overall vehicle production and enable a competitive advantage for vehicle manufacturers.