Can vehicle parts made out of Hot Form Quench (HFQ®) high-strength aluminum become a competitive alternative in terms of reducing the weight of future cars, buses and airplanes? This is the issue in focus for LoCoLite, an EU project in which AP&T is taking part as the sole machinery supplier together with around fifteen other players from industry and academia in Europe.
Components made out of lighter weight materials introduce new opportunities for transportation manufacturers to reduce both fuel consumption and emissions in vehicles of the future. For the new alternatives to be of interest, however, they need to do more than merely contribute to low environmental impact. They also need to be just as good or better than the currently available alternatives in terms of safety, quality and manufacturing cost. LoCoLite is part of the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for research and development. Its objective is to develop a new method – Hot Form Quench (HFQ®) – for competitive production of complex components made out of high-strength aluminum. The method provides excellent formability and material stability, and it can replace other slower or more material-intense manufacturing methods.
“This is an extremely exciting project where we can use our know-how within press hardening of steel parts to produce an efficient production solution for aluminum parts as well. Aluminum, however, places other demands on process design and control,” says Dr. Christian Koroschetz, who is a project manager at AP&T’s R&D center in Ulricehamn.
For example, aluminum is heated to approximately 500 degrees while steel requires just over 900 degrees. Also, in order to be able to form parts with a complex shape, the forming of hot aluminum must be done at a higher speed.
“To obtain the experience required to produce a commercial production solution for high-strength aluminum, we have conducted several manufacturing tests during the just over 18-month duration of the project. For example, we recently formed a car door inner for Lotus at our R&D centre in Ulricehamn. This is the first car door inner to be made out of high-strength aluminum that has been formed during a single forming procedure. The results are very encouraging. We successfully satisfied the requirements for strength even though the material was stretched out up to 50% from a thickness of only 2 millimeters. This would not have been possible with conventional cold forming,” says Christian Koroschetz.
Now that the project is halfway completed, AP&T recognizes future opportunities for the new method.
“Absolutely, there is a great deal of interest among customers to go lightweight, and we intend to develop a competitive production solution before the project is concluded,” says Dr. Martin Skrikerud, chief technical officer at AP&T.