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Alcan Details Aluminum Advatages For Vehicle Safety

Alcan Automotive : 08 March, 2004  (Company News)
New alloys and fabrication technologies are leading automakers to choose aluminum as the preferred material to ensure the safety of vehicles and their occupants, according to a technical presentation by Alcan Automotive engineers at the SAE World Congress here this week.
Aluminum applications range from side-impact beams, bumper beams, and crash boxes to structural modules and complete car bodies, according to the paper presented by Alcanís Peter Furrer, vice president of automotive systems engineering, and co-authored by Rod Jones, vice president of technology and engineering, and Beat Ruckstuhl, director of engineering center-Europe. Aluminum also is a material of choice to meet requirements for pedestrian protection and low repair costs.

Using aluminum fabrication methods for crash management solutions reduces both development time and costs when compared with traditional steel usage, according to the report. New aluminum design concepts can be developed and tested within a few months, thanks to the low cost of extrusion tools and the short lead times for tool manufacturing. Aluminum designs are highly flexible and can be quickly and simply modified for specific requirements.

In recent years, new aluminum alloys have been developed that ensure good formability, weldability and crashworthiness. Today, crashworthy aluminum designs are not only used in niche volume production but also for high-volume models where cost effectiveness is a priority. The specific characteristics of aluminum alloys offer possibilities for designing cost-effective light-weight structures with high stiffness and excellent crash-energy absorption.

Alcan is bringing the metalís advantages to global automakers based on its European base and expanded production activities in Michigan and Quebec. In bumper modules, aluminumís 30 to 50 percent lighter weight, compared to steel, results in significantly lower fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Reduced weight at both the front and rear of the vehicle also reduces axle load, particularly in the front, which improves driving comfort and performance and, in part, counterbalances the trend to larger engines.

The primary function of a bumper system is to protect the vehicle in a low-speed crash. Modern aluminum bumpers can absorb 100% of the crash energy in a low-speed impact up to 5 mph with no damage to the vehicle structure. The addition of a deformable crash box can provide further energy absorption, helping to keep structural damage to a minimum at speeds of up to 10 mph.

The unique advantages of extrusion technology also enable automakers to develop new aluminum applications. Extruded aluminum pieces can be reliably joined by various methods and combined with other structural pieces, including those made of steel or other materials, to form complete structural modules.

Successful aluminum-intensive vehicles include the Audi A8, which boasts an aluminum spaceframe that incorporates large structural die castings and bent extruded profiles. The Jaguar XJ has a distinctive aluminum sheet-intensive monocoque body structure, and the BMW 5-series and 6-series are crafted with an all-aluminum front end. All-aluminum body concepts can deliver up to 40% weight reduction while maintaining or even improving the safety of the passengers.
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