A manufacturing process designed to produce low-cost, lightweight and potentially recycled aluminium car parts is being scaled up for use in high volume vehicles, as part of a UK project.
The production technique, known as the Hot Form Quench (HFQ) process, is capable of producing high strength aluminium sheet alloys, in even complex shapes. The aluminium components could reduce the weight, and therefore energy consumption, of mass production vehicles.
The process was originally developed by Prof Jianguo Lin at Imperial College London. It has already been used to produce low volume parts for the Aston Martin DB11, as part of a collaboration between the car maker and Imperial College spin-out Impression Technologies.
Now in a £9.6m project, including a £4.8m grant from Advanced Propulsion Centre UK, the process will be scaled up for mass production. The RACEForm (rapid aluminium cost-effective forming) project includes Impression Technologies, Imperial College and the Brunel Centre for Advanced Solidification Technology (BCAST) at Brunel University, as well as an unnamed UK-based passenger car OEM.
In the HFQ process, an aluminium sheet is heated in an oven and then transferred to a high-speed press for cold die quenching. It is then heat treated, according to Dr Roger Darlington, BCAST’s director of technology.
“As you press the material in the dies, you’re cooling it,” said Darlington. “So you stamp it while its soft, quench it to trap the strengthening behaviour of the material, and then heat treat it.”
High strength aluminium alloys are typically more difficult to form into complex parts than traditional steels, as they can split and crack.
The new technique allows even high strength aluminium alloys to be processed and then stamped into complex shapes, said Darlington. “This offers design-enabling opportunities, such as slimmer structural pillars, for example.”
Recycling such alloys from scrap sources such as End-of-Life Vehicles could significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions from component manufacture. But recycled materials can also be harder to form, using conventional techniques.
So the researchers hope that the HFQ process will also allow greater use of recycled aluminium alloys. “This should be a key enabler for the introduction of these types of materials,” said Darlington.
The project consortium also includes Tyne and Wear-based Gestamp Washington UK, Banbury-based Innoval Technology, and a sheet aluminium producer.