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Aluminum’s Role in Decreasing Vehicle Weight Lightweighting is also being driven by such factors as escalating increases in car weights triggered by the constant addition of features to vehicles; the development of electric and other fuel systems that demand lighter weight to improve energy efficiency; and ever-growing global warming concerns. The R&D drive for lighter-weight aluminum and aluminum extruded materials supports these needs and can offer the most cost-effective lightweighting solutions. Automakers remain challenged by consumer demand for additional vehicle features that commonly rely upon heavier steel and like materials. Safety, performance, and entertainment features all add to a vehicle’s weight. That’s why aluminum producers seek solutions that can replace the heavier iron and steel, through innovative design with aluminum extrusions and advanced aluminum alloys. Consider that in 2015, the average new US vehicle


produced contained 400 lb (180 kg) of aluminum, estimates Ducker Worldwide, a provider of auto industry trend data. By 2025, Ducker Worldwide forecasts, aluminum will comprise more than 75% of pickup truck body parts, 24% of large sedans, 22% of SUVs and 18% of minivan body and closure parts.


For autos, the most commonly used aluminum and aluminum extruded alloys are the 5000- and 6000-series, and companies such as Sapa Extrusions North America are focusing on improving the 6000-series alloys. The 6000- series alloys currently offer the most cost effective solutions. Sapa is also exploring other alloy systems to further advance lightweighting opportunities. In crash performance tests, researchers at Ohio State


University’s Center for Precision Forming found that two B-pillars—one formed from hot-stamped boron steel and the other from 7000-series aluminum—showed similar perfor- mance although the aluminum part cost 40% less.


New Manufacturing Approaches Embrace Aluminum Automakers such as General Motors Co. are introducing new assembly materials and challenging their engineers to develop new approaches to manufacturing. Consequently, GM, for instance, is using more aluminum and aluminum extrusions because engineers find them resilient, easy to work with and more corrosion-resistant than low-carbon steel. It uses extruded aluminum for frame rails, sheet


aluminum for body panels and complex aluminum castings as substitutes for multicomponent assemblies that require assembly into a large unit.


Lightweighting is also being driven by such factors as escalating increases in car weights triggered by the constant addition of features to vehicles.


A Forbes reporter discovered that the new full-size luxury Cadillac CT6 weighs less than a BMW 5 series model because it uses a multimaterial approach that maximizes aluminum solutions in critical structures to optimize lightweighting. In addition, GM engineers have developed a welding tip that can handle steel-to-aluminum welding. That’s a breakthrough since welding aluminum and steel together is difficult, reflecting the big difference in temperature required to melt each.


Numerous Aluminum Advantages Aside from aluminum’s lighter weight, automakers favor aluminum extrusions for several other reasons. Aluminum extrusions offer solutions that increase vehicle safety as demonstrated by numerous vehicles in production today. This is a direct result of the energy absorption provided by well designed aluminum alloys. Another significant advantage is related to the recyclability of aluminum and the enhanced value in the material. Since the repair costs of aluminum-intensive vehicles have been documented as comparable to traditional steel-focused vehicles, this sustainability factor adds signifi- cant value to an aluminum-intensive vehicle at end-of-life. The desire for lighter-weight vehicles won’t diminish any time soon, even as other materials such as magnesium gain increased attention. This demand explains why aluminum and aluminum extrusion producers such as Sapa are focusing their R&D centers on the automotive sector. Collaboration with their automotive customers to better focus on light- weighting solutions is what will drive innovation.


Dave Lukasak, PhD, is director of metallurgy and research at Sapa Extrusion North America, a producer of common alloy extruded aluminum products.


47 — Motorized Vehicle Manufacturing 2017


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