Advances in aluminum alloys and manufacturing tech-niques, combined with longer-lasting finishes, are helping OEMs to reduce emissions and improve payloads while offering better fuel economy. Automotive Industries (AI) asked István Katus, Vice President of Arconic Wheel and Transportation Products/Alcoa Wheels, what are some of the latest developments in aluminum wheel technology.
Katus: We can proudly say that demand for our recently introduced LvL ONE ® finish is increasing rapidly. It’s smoother and glossier than our Brushed wheel. We also expanded our product portfolio with another wheel finish: DuraBright® /Dura-Flange® . Wheels with the combined Dura-Bright ® / Dura-Flange® treatment will look shiny, will be easy to maintain and will have a protective shield that increases the wheels’ service life.
AI: How does this treatment extend the service life of the wheel?
Katus: Dura-Bright® is not a coating, it’s a surface treatment that penetrates the aluminum and becomes an integral part of the wheel. It will not crack, peel or corrode. The treatment gives the wheel a very shiny appearance that will last for years of use. The Dura-Flange® treatment offers a protective shield to further reduce rim flange wear. It is very popular in transport where loads are heavy and prone to shifting, causing the tire bead to rub against the wheel flange. The treatment gives extra protection, at least doubling the life of the wheel compared to untreated aluminum units under the same conditions.
AI: Is LvL ONE® finish integrated with Dura-Bright®/Dura-Flange® treatment?
Katus:No, LvL ONE® and Dura-Bright ® / Dura-Flange® are two finishes joining the Brushed and Dura-Bright® EVO finishes. So Alcoa Wheels can be ordered in four finishes.
AI: What about your accessory range?
Katus: Arconic offers a wide range of cleaning and maintenance products under the Alcoa Accessory Products brand. Other recent products include Dura-Bright ® Wheel Wash, and two new greases, HUBgrease and VALVEgrease. DuraBright® Wheel Wash is a special cleaner developed for DuraBright® treated wheels. It is suitable for weekly use and perfectly safe as you don’t need to dilute the product.
VALVEgrease is a lithium-based grease that acts as a corrosion inhibitor when mounting/replacing valves. It helps to prevent air leakage over time. We are so confident in the quality of this grease that we also use it in our manufacturing facility for pre-lubrication of the valves and the valve hole area. HUBgrease is a new mineral oil-based grease perfect for mounting and demounting Alcoa Wheels. It helps to prevent corrosion on the hub bore and doesn’t mark the surface of the wheel.
The accessory portfolio includes wheel nuts, valves, a cleaning brush, special extraction tools and shiny covers. The ALcovers come with an embossed “Alcoa Wheels” logo and look fantastic on Dura-Bright ® treated Alcoa Wheels. Unlike cheaper alternatives they don’t touch the wheel so won’t damage the wheel surface. The covers are available in stainless steel and chromed plastic.
AI: What are the benefits of lightweight Alcoa Wheels for commercial vehicles?
Katus: Alcoa Wheels are up to 47% lighter than steel wheels of the same size. This means that, depending on the wheel size and configuration, you can save between 228 and 394 kg. This gain can be used to increase a vehicle’s payload. People might think that less weight will reflect in less strength, but Alcoa Wheels are proven to be five times stronger than steel.
Tests have shown that an Alcoa Wheel endures a load of 71,200 kg before deforming by 5 cm. Similar tests on steel wheels found deforming started at 13,600 kg. The Japanese JWL test is another test where our wheels outperform the rest. It simulates a truck hitting a high curb at a speed of 50 km/h. A 910 kg weight is dropped onto the tire and wheel assembly. While steel wheels show excessive rim deformation and air loss, and cast aluminum wheels break, Alcoa Wheels stay intact.
Aluminum wheels can also help save fuel. We have trials running city fleets across Europe and the results are encouraging. We are seeing 1% to 2% fuel savings which can mean large annual savings for 1,000 or 2,000 vehicle bus fleets.
AI: What is your footprint in Europe?
Katus: Arconic operates over 45 European sites, employing around 10,000 employees, and generating 26% of Arconic’s global 2016 revenue. Products for the commercial vehicle market produced in Europe include forged aluminum wheels (Alcoa ® Wheels) and rolled products in Hungary, aluminum extrusions and fasteners in Germany, as well as fasteners in France and the UK.
AI: What are the current trends in the commercial vehicle sector?
Katus: In the medium term the trend is CO2 reduction. Road freight transport accounts for around 6% of the EU’s total CO2 emissions and the share is growing. The EU has a goal of reducing overall CO2emissions by 30% by 2030. They won’t get there without increases in all kinds of fuel saving technologies like tire pressure monitoring systems, aerodynamic improvements, alternative powertrains, platooning, and lightweighting.
In the near term we are seeing increased interest in weight reduction to help fleets improve their financial performance. Euro VI added 125kg to the average truck and reduced its payload capacity by an equal amount. Fleets need to cut as much weight as possible to regain that lost revenue generating capacity. Other trends include fuel saving, durability, sustainability, reduction of the total cost of ownership (TCO) and tire wear. All these topics are connected to each other in one way or another. TCO can be reduced through less frequent replacement of wheels and tires, as well as fuel savings.
AI: How do you meet ever-increasing standards for quality, innovation and performance?
Katus: Our company slogan is “Innovation, Engineered.” In 2015 we introduced a lightweight, all-aluminum frame for Class 8 trucks in collaboration with Metalsa. It’s still in development, but the lighter weight frame will reduce the weight of the truck by more than 40% compared to steel frames. This will save nearly 408 kg per vehicle. Our 18 kg Ultra ONE ® heavy duty truck wheel, already available in the US, is 47% lighter than a steel wheel of the same size. Our latest generation DuraBright® EVO wheel is 10 times more resistant to corrosion than its predecessor Dura-Bright ®with XBR® technology.
Our recent innovations for the automotive market include the Arconic 951 bonding technology which enables the mass production of aluminum intensive vehicles. Our Arconic Micromill ® material, which produces automotive parts that are twice as strong and 30% lighter than parts made from high strength steel, debuted on Ford’s 2016 F-150 truck in 2015.
AI: What’s next for Alcoa Wheels?
Katus: Alcoa ® Wheels will continue to be a product brand of Arconic following the division of the company into Alcoa and Arconic. Our mission at Arconic is a simple one: “working in close partnership with our customers, we solve complex engineering challenges to transform the way we fly, drive, build and power.”
Sometimes this means pushing great advances in groundbreaking techniques and technologies, whether that be our world-leading work in 3D printing or our research into robotics, big data and AI. More often than not, however, it is the small, incremental advances that have the biggest positive impact on our customers’ businesses.
Lightweighting commercial vehicle components through the transition from traditional materials to aluminum is one of these examples. It may not grab the headlines, but it has the potential to drive truly remarkable improvements in fuel efficiency, safety and lifecycle cost reduction for commercial vehicle manufacturers and operators