By studying the root structure of certain plant life like the Scotch Pine, you can begin to understand how strong foundations are made and how it is possible for the components, though lightweight themselves, can be strengthened by networking and balancing their components. The human body is a great example of this. Our bones are very lightweight, yet with the intricate system of tissue connecting them, they somehow manage to hold us upright, carrying much more weight (Can I use the word "fat" here?) than their own size and weight would justify.
Scottish Pine: Photo by Tuohirulla
These are the principles that Claus Mattheck at he Karlsruhe Research Centre in Germany used to develop two lightweighting software programs, the CAO (computer-aided optimization) and SKO (soft kill option). The two programs work together with another software system, FEM (Finite Element Model), that is used in engineering design. FEM identifies areas of high stress in a design and CAO and SKO enable the designer to see what happens to the stress when material is added or taken away.
Bionic Car by Mercedes-Benz (licensed photo)
The Opel, still manufactured in Europe, used Mattheck's lightweighting
software to make one of its car models 30 percent lighter, but 60 percent
stronger than a model using conventional software... yet the Opel still maintained stability, safety and similar handling. The Mercedes-Benz Bionic Car used the lightweighting software to reduce its weight, yet keep the car's strength. In addition to being influenced by the Scotch Pine, the Bionic Car mimics the aerodynamic shape of the boxfish.
Lightweighting software has implications for many products and technologies. One example is the bioBase™ mooring system developed by BioPower, which was bio-inspired by the elaborate foundation of giant kelp plants in the ocean. Lightweighting construction of all vehicles would reduce materials, cost, and of course, carbon footprint; but lightweighting software is also applicable to a host of other construction projects, including buildings, bridges, and machinery.