Issue: Sep 2015


New lightweight, high-performance Alcoa aluminum alloys for automotive applications



New lightweight, high-performance Alcoa aluminum alloys for automotive applications

by Nick Palmen

A new range of aluminum alloys will help OEMs to continue to reduce weight while in some cases improving perfor­mance of components in comparison with those made from iron or other materials.

The new alloys from Alcoa are SupraCast™, EZCast™, VersaCast™ and EverCast™. In tests they have surpassed customer expectations on strength, thermal performance and corrosion resistance, according to the company. “These specialty alloys demonstrate Alcoa’s commitment to meet the evolving long-term needs of tomorrow’s marketplace,” said Tim Reyes, President of Alcoa Casting. “The skills of our expert metallurgists combined with our deep understanding of the automotive industry allow us to anticipate and meet customer needs quickly and effectively. With this portfolio of patented alloys we are enabling OEMs and foundries to tailor their parts to meet specific objectives — with material that weighs less and performs better than what is currently being used,” he said.

Eck Industries, a premium aluminum castings supplier, is a strong advocate for the new alloys. The company has successfully deployed VersaCast in collaboration with a supplier of cast parts to the motorsports industry and is collaborating with Michigan-based technology development company REL in the development of a conformable compressed natural gas (CNG) tank that was named “Best in Class” for 2015 by Modern Casting magazine. In addition, Eck Industries has recently completed the casting of cylinder heads made from SupraCast. After successful dynamometer tested an order was placed for cast heads using this high performance alloy.

“These foundry alloys from Alcoa open the door to a whole new world of high-performance, lightweight solutions for our customers,” said Andrew Halonen, Sales Engineer of Eck Industries. “The alloys not only perform better than existing materials, they are easy to cast, even for highly complex parts. And that adds value throughout the supply chain,” he added.

Automotive Industries (AI) asked Christine Keener, VP, Commercial at Alcoa Casting, what prompted the company to develop the new family of alloys.

Keener: If you look at the automotive industry there is a growing need for lighter and stronger alloys. This is an opportunity to create and meet demands for our products. The new family of innovative foundry alloys for automotive applications enables OEMs to design replacement components with both increased performance and decreased cost. Each alloy offers an opportunity to design parts in aluminum that were historically based on other materials.

AI: What do the new alloys offer in terms of benefits to the automotive industry?

Keener: There are lots of different benefits, depending on the alloy and application but anywhere between 16% and 94% greater yield strength above typical grades of cast iron, and at least 40% greater than the standard aluminum alloy. With the improved strength and castability we provide we enable the design and use of parts that reduce the mass of materials used by 25-30%. Each alloy meets specific needs identified in the automotive industry:

  • SupraCast™ – Provides superior strength at higher temperatures for high-performance power train applications. SupraCast offers thermal conductivity combined with high structural integrity, which is ideal for cylinder heads, connecting rods, turbo chargers, brake calipers, and engine blocks.
  • EZCast™ – Appreciable yield strength and elongation gains compared to traditional alloys in this space, EZCast is named for the high fluidity, thermal stability and low shrinkage that make it easy to cast and ideal for a variety of different, crash-resistant structural components, including, engine cradles, cross-members, side doors, radiator mounting, engine mounts, sub-frames and shock towers.
  • VersaCast™ – Outperforming cast iron up to 94% and typi­cal aluminum alloy alternatives by at least 40%, VersaCast is designed to help OEMs achieve optimal performance in the most demanding structural applications while con­tinuing to make vehicles lighter. VersaCast is suitable for automotive, aerospace or military components where high strength is required; its excellent castability allows for com­plicated shapes.
  • EverCast™ – A high strength and high fatigue resistant alloy, EverCast is optimized for safety critical components in braking, steering and suspension brackets.

AI: How do they compare with the existing materials?

Keener: The new alloys are stronger, lighter, and offer at least 20% better fatigue resistance.

AI: Have you completed any trials with any of the major carmakers and suppliers?

Keener: The new alloys have undergone extensive trials with major automakers and their suppliers, beating customers’ expectations on strength, thermal performance and corrosion resistance AI: Would the new alloys be available in Europe as well as in the US?

Keener: Yes they are available everywhere, but in terms of production location they can be produced both in Europe and North America. We have locations in Norway, Iceland, Spain, the U.S., and Canada that produce foundry alloys, but we certainly are going to explore supplying the alloys to other regions. In North America, SupraCast and EZCast have been successfully produced and sold, and both VersaCast and EverCast are currently being qualified by customers. In Europe, EZCast, SupraCast and VersaCast are commercially available.

AI: How would the new alloys help Alcoa with global positioning?

Keener: Right now it is a little bit early to say how it is going to impact our global performance. We are quite confident, given the market’s need for a lighter weight, high-performance material, that this is certainly going to help us in the long run.

AI: What can we expect next from Alcoa?

Keener: We continue to focus on various opportunities based on feedback that we are getting from our customers. We are looking at products in the extrusion space as well to develop alloys that would be available, particularly for automotive applications. We are working on the technology, but are not yet ready to go public with anything yet.

AI



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