New Technology to Process Aluminium Alloy Powders May Benefit Automotive Industry

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Automotive manufacturers continue to seek out new formulations for lightweight metals to improve fuel efficiency. But when trying to make a lightweight metal alloy, many factors must be considered. Innovative metal alloys may bring greater fuel efficiency, but also analytical challenges.  With the multitude of new alloys coming on board in the automotive industry, confirmation of chemical composition is critically important.

X-ray fluorescence (XRF) is a proven technology for the elemental analysis of speciality alloys to ensure the correct alloys are combined in the right percentages and the finished material meets precise manufacturing specifications. Portable XRF analysers are indispensable tools for performing PMI of incoming raw materials, work in progress, and final quality assurance of finished parts because they can determine the elemental composition of a sample within seconds.

In an effort to develop a cost-effective aluminium alloy for the automotive industry, researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory eliminated several steps that are required during conventional extrusion processing of aluminium alloy powders, while also achieving a significant increase in product ductility. According to an article on Sciencedaily.com, high-performance aluminium alloys made from powder have long been used in lightweight components for specialised aerospace applications, but these alloys have typically been too expensive for the automotive industry.

In this study, “High Ductility Aluminium Alloy Made from Powder by Friction Extrusion,” published in Materialia, the team extruded nanostructured aluminium rods directly from powder in a single step, using PNNL’s Shear Assisted Processing and Extrusion technology, or ShAPE™. Extrusion of aluminium alloys directly from powder eliminates canning, de-gassing, hot isostatic pressing, de-canning, and billet pre-heating.

“This is the first published instance of an aluminium alloy powder being consolidated into nano structured extrusions using a single-step process like ShAPE™,” said PNNL materials scientist Scott Whalen, who led the study.

He added, “The elimination of both the processing steps and the need for pre-heating could dramatically reduce production time as well as lower the cost and overall embedded energy within the product, which could be beneficial for automotive manufacturers who want to make passenger vehicles more affordable, lighter, and fuel-efficient for the consumer.”

Researchers at EPFL’s Laboratory for Multiscale Mechanics Modelling are developing magnesium alloys with potential automotive manufacturing applications. Azo Materials reported that the team produced a model for predicting how magnesium acts when mixed with varied elements to find out which type of alloy offers the deformation capacity required for industrial applications. The goal is to discover new, more malleable alloys for lightweight, more fuel-efficient car manufacturing.

An article on phys.org described another approach to using magnesium to create lightweight automotive metal. Researchers at NIMS and Nagaoka University of Technology developed a new age-hardenable magnesium alloy by adding very small amounts of zinc, manganese, aluminium and calcium. The alloy has excellent room temperature formability comparable to that of medium strength aluminium alloys that are used in some automobile bodies, and it’s also stronger and less expensive to process.

Source: Thermo Fisher Scientific – Analyzing Metals

Aluminium, Blog, PMI, XRF