Issue: Nov 2008


New aluminum technology for auto manufacturing



by Nick Palmen

Aluminum continues to make inroads into vehicle manufacturing, penetrating into the volume market with models such as the Opel Insignia.

In July, 2008, Novelis was selected to supply aluminum sheet for the lightweight hoods for BMW’s X6 crossover SUV. "The X6 is yet another landmark vehicle from BMW, and we are proud that Novelis was chosen to supply our advanced aluminum sheet for the vehicle's hood," said Pat McNulty, Automotive Market Director for Novelis in North America.

Novelis also supplies aluminum sheet for a number of other BMW models in both the U.S. and Europe, including the 3 Series, the 5 Series and the 7 Series, as well as the X5 and the Z4. "Aluminum is gaining popularity because it helps cut vehicle weight, which improves fuel economy and reduces emissions," said Buddy Stemple, vice president of Specialty Products for Novelis in North America. "With concerns over climate change and tough new fuel-economy regulations on the way, more and more automakers will be turning to weight reduction to deliver the next generation of safe and fuel-efficient vehicles."

Novelis is a world leader in aluminum rolling, producing an estimated 19% of the world's flat-rolled aluminum products. Formed as a Canadian corporation in January 2005, Novelis is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hindalco Industries Limited – one of Asia’s largest integrated producer of aluminum and a leading producer of copper.
The company produces high-quality aluminium sheet and foil products for customers in high-value markets including automotive, transportation, packaging, construction and printing.

Novelis is globally positioned, operating in 11 countries with approximately 12,700 employees.  The company reported revenue of $11.2 billion in its 2008 fiscal year. 

Automotive Industries spoke to Robert Georg, Director of Sales & Marketing Automotive, for Novelis Automotive, Painted & Specialities.

AI: Let’s talk about the new Opel Insignia. What do you think prompted the decision to use aluminium as a material of choice for the midsize segment?

Georg: We assume that Opel came to that decision after an intensive analysis of the product. Novelis has developed an intelligent lightweight design with modern Aluminium solutions which fits customers’ needs in terms of technical requirements. The design also has commercial and manufacturing benefits. Opel also reported satisfaction with the aluminum hood of the previous Vectra and assisted in the development of the aluminum based concept. The manufacturing of aluminium hoods is a proven technology of Opel and Saab in Europe, even for high volume models like the current Vectra.

AI: You were chosen as a 100% supplier for the inner and outer material based on the 6xxx alloy group. What material characteristics were the Opel designers looking for?

Georg: For the new Insignia hood, Opel was looking for an aluminium alloy which lived up to its global specifications. The requirements suited our product’s excellent hemming characteristic which supports the assembly of the hood system and displays good forming behavior. This allows the designers freedom to develop modern designs. 

The product also has a very good brake hardening response which gives it the strength to guarantee stability during the daily use of a vehicle. 

AI: How do your materials help OEM’s meet the newest pedestrian safety requirements? 

Georg: The Opel engineering for the new Insignia hood fulfills all of the safety requirements including pedestrian safety without any active assistance system. The Novelis patented Anticorodal Ac-170PX was used for the exterior and the Ecodal 605 for the interior. The design of the car front, combined with the hood geometry and this material gives the system great flexibility. This is needed to protect pedestrians in the case of an accident in contact with the new Insignia’s front.

AI: How is Novelis helping customers in the developing phase?

Georg: We are involved from the very early stages of development. We contribute towards material proposals and use our experience to choose the best alloy from our portfolio for the future applications. 

This close collaboration also gives us the opportunity to support Opel with our technical know-how regarding the general assembly process and tooling layout for the materials’ specific needs.  

AI: What are the major benefits for the OEM’s when using aluminium solutions for the hood?

Georg: One of the biggest benefits is the light weight potential of aluminium. Compared to a standard solution directly over the front axle, aluminium reduces weight by up to 40% including the possible secondary weight effects of the system.     Secondary benefits include better driving dynamics and axle load tire selection. Each kilogram saved helps to reduce fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions of the vehicle without reducing its safety or comfort. 

AI: What future possibilities exist for weight reduction with Novelis Fusion materials? 

Georg: The multilayer Novelis Fusion is a break through technology for aluminium which allows us to separate the requirements of a blank into a clad material and a core material. When using a high strength alloy combination with the possibility of hemming and forming we see a further benefit of up to 15% for down gauging depending on existing designs.  

AI: Describe the market response to Novelis Fusion technology so far?

Georg: The automotive market has reacted very positively and enthusiastically to this new technology. It has opened the doors for new aluminium applications which were not possible before due to material restrictions. The Novelis Fusion technology will give engineers special material solutions which will help them take on the future challenges of the automotive industry.

AI: What steps have you taken meet the demand on a global basis?

Georg: Novelis has opened the new cast house for Fusion technology in Sierre, Switzerland. The other Fusion cast house in Oswego, USA has been in production since March 2006. With these investments, Novelis Fusion is now available in all key regions. The capacity of the new cast house in Sierre was almost doubled during the 17-month construction period in light of the high level of interest, successful trials and orders. The first new car models with a Novelis Fusion application inside will be available on the market shortly.

Novelis’ product range for the transportation market includes: sheet for automotive vehicle structures and body panels; pre-painted and plain sheet for commercial vehicle applications such as dump bodies, cabs and trailer flooring; "shate" for ship hulls and decks, tippers, road tankers, etc;  plain, heat-treated or painted slit strips and coils – customized to the needs of automotive part suppliers; high specification foil (industrial finstock) and brazing sheet for heat exchangers; and foil for insulation applications.

The Novelis Fusion Process

The underlying principle of Novelis Fusion is simple. Three layers of aluminum are cast simultaneously into one, homogenous ingot. This ingot consists of a core and two outer layers. Once the ingot has set, it is rolled.
The two outer layers are tailored to provide the specific properties needed in each Novelis Fusion package. For example, it’s possible to combine and achieve high-strength, excellent bendability and corrosion resistance at the same time. Any way you choose.

Step one: two or even three molten aluminum alloys are poured simultaneously into a mould where they solidify as a single multi-alloy ingot. The interface between the layers provides an essentially perfect metallurgical bond.

Step two: the ingot moves to a rolling mill where it is transformed, at final gauge, into either a coil or a cut-to-length sheet. All alloy layers maintain their distinct properties during the rolling process.

Step three: at the customer’s production facility, the multi-alloy sheet is formed into parts and panels for a host of consumer and industrial products.

Fusion in Europe

Novelis has started European production of its Novelis Fusion technology.
Novelis says market response has been “so enthusiastic” that production has been rolled out globally, with facilities in North America, Asia and now Europe, soon to be joined by one in South America. 

The capacity of the new Novelis Fusion casthouse in Sierre was almost doubled during the 17-month construction period in light of the high level of interest, successful trials and orders. 

The facility’s current capacity is 130 thousand tons per year.

Speaking at the launch, Arnaud de Weert, president of Novelis Europe said: “We are sending out a strong invitation to European designers and engineers to explore the potential of Novelis Fusion. This material is conceptually a new aluminum that opens the door to the future of design”.

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