Aluminium has transformed the automotive industry, and it will continue to do so in future.
It offers a better cost-benefit ratio than any of the substitute materials on offer. By collaborating even more closely in future, aluminium producers, processors and vehicle manufacturers can unlock further potential for the use of aluminium here. The figures offer an impressive reflection of this trend. The average aluminium content of cars is steadily increasing. Whereas 60 years ago an average vehicle contained 19 kilograms of aluminium, between 1990 and 2014 the aluminium content of an average car nearly tripled, increasing from 50 kg to 140 kg. This figure is projected to increase to between 160 and 180 kg by 2020 as small and mid-size cars follow the trend set by luxury cars in the use of aluminium.
As the competition amongst materials intensifies, car manufacturers and aluminium suppliers have begun working together more closely. By investing in application-oriented research and development, the aluminium industry has succeeded in continually improving the properties of its materials, developing new products and optimizing production processes. Process and material innovations drive the development of efficient lightweight construction solutions and their implementation in series production, as with energy-saving components for chassis, engines, transmissions and gearboxes.
The use of aluminium in automotive manufacturing is also being driven by new joining technologies. Improved soldering methods, for example, have resulted in a situation where nearly all heat exchangers for automotive air conditioning systems and radiators are now made of aluminium. Innovative welding processes and bonding technologies make it possible to create complex structures that are not only better in a technical sense, but which are also more economical. Applications even extend to entire axle systems.
Aluminium conquers new application areas
In recent years, aluminium producers and processors have developed a series of new aluminium alloys (5xxx, 6xxx) with improved mechanical properties, including better strength, formability and corrosion resistance, allowing them to offer to ever lighter components with reduced wall thicknesses. Thanks to their good workability, high strength values and excellent weldability, innovative aluminium materials have made their way into new areas of application. The development of new roller surface geometries and lubricants for the improvement of tribological properties is also moving full speed ahead. Developments in the field of e-mobility are propelling use of this material, as power electronics, e-motors and especially batteries and the battery housings that protect them against external influences are creating further potential for the use of lightweight construction in vehicles. As a result of electronic vehicles’ different design requirements, there are many new products and applications for which aluminium profiles are the only sensible option, due to the possibilities for functional integration or cooling, for instance. Light metal solutions are winning out in battery housings, structural components and drive systems.
Automotive manufacturers define requirements for material developments
The automotive industry is one of the biggest drivers of material and process development for aluminium, whereby it is less the end customers themselves, but rather society as a whole and the regulatory framework that are pushing these developments forward. Increasing urbanization, such as in Asia, is forcing carmakers to come up with new concepts, while threshold values for the fuel consumption of each automotive manufacturer’s range of vehicles are also having an impact. As a result of all these factors, the demand for innovative lightweight construction solutions in the vehicle manufacturing industry will continue to increase.
Thanks to growing demand for sharp edged designs for automotive exteriors, 6xxx materials with excellent formability properties are urgently needed. As a result of lightweight construction and the reductions in sheet thickness that this entails, materials must offer high strength values. The specific requirements of automotive manufacturers vary. On the one hand, high strength and good crash performance, such as with ductility, are required, whereas only the highest stiffness levels can satisfy the rigidity requirements of the chassis. Depending on the use to which a component is to be put and expansion possibilities, good formability related to strength and geometry is expected in the various strength classes.
Aluminium industry looks to the future with optimism
Overall, the automotive sector offers the prospect of exponential growth for the aluminium industry, with demand and requirements for aluminium continuing to grow. Even if aluminium should lose market share in individual areas of application, it will find increasing employment in others, and its growth areas will remain larger than the areas in which substitutes are found.
In future, aluminium sheet will take the place of other materials, such as steel for the vehicle’s exterior and hang-on parts and OEMs have already made it clear that the use of aluminium will increase for bonnets, fenders and doors in the next generations of vehicles. Cast aluminium also remains an important and dynamic growth market. Aluminium founders have a wealth of materials expertise, and complex cast parts with high machining depth offer tremendous potential. The utilization of aluminium solutions in crashrelevant areas of the chassis also represents a field with outstanding potential for the future.
Automotive manufacturing at the focus of ALUMINIUM 2018
The future prospects of this material in automotive manufacturing will also be centre stage at this year’s No. 1 ALUMINIUM World Trade Fair from 9 to 11 October in Düsseldorf – both for many exhibitors and with such supporting events as the lecture forum and the guided trade fair tours.
This year’s Aluminium Conference – organized by GDA, the German Association of the Aluminium Industry will also pick up on this theme. Here the topics in focus include aluminium solutions for sustainable transport concepts, alloys, cooperations between aluminium and automotive producers, new developments in joining technology as well as additive manufacturing, to name but a few.
A total of 1,000 exhibitors and 27,000 visitors from 100 nations are expected to attend the world’s biggest trade fair for the aluminium industry. In six exhibition halls ALUMINIUM will showcase the complete cross-section of the industry – from aluminium production and machines and equipment for finishing and finished products through to recycling.