Automotive Manufacturing Looks at NanoSteel Doing More with Less

  • June 6, 2016

  • Producing stronger and more versatile materials, steel makers are helping carmakers to do more with less, by James Bakewell

    The steel industry is innovating at a furious pace, and it needs to. Its long-standing dominance in the automotive industry is coming under threat from a variety of lightweight ‘young pretenders’. In response to increasingly stringent regulations covering emissions and fuel efficiency being introduced in various regions around the world, all OEMs are evaluating the use of alternative lightweight materials such as aluminum and carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) to reduce the structural weight of their vehicles. These materials must be strong enough to protect passengers in the event of a collision and cheap enough for use mass-production.

    Some OEMs have already made the jump. In 2014, Ford switched from steel to aluminum for the production of the body of its market leading F-150 and in 2015 BMW started using CFRP in the spaceframe of its 7 Series sedan. In response, steel makers have been investing significantly in producing stronger and more ductile grades of the metal, allowing carmakers to do more with less material.

    Announced in 2014, ArcelorMittal’s Fortiform range of ductile AHSS has been developed specifically for cold stamping, and could reduce the weight of components now produced using dual-phase (DP) steels by up to 20%. Fortiform 1050 is the first product in this range to be available on the market, and the first serially produced vehicles to use it will roll off production lines in 2017. As a result of its high tensile strength, Fortiform 1050 steel is particularly suitable for the production of parts that must absorb energy in the event of impacts. Samples of two other grades, Fortiform 980 and Fortiform 1180 are currently available to manufacturers for testing.

    Meanwhile, NanoSteel – a family of nanostructured ferrous alloys developed by a US company of the same name – demonstrates elongations of over 20% at ambient temperatures, which presents opportunities for cold forming that are impossible using current AHSS and UHSS grades. The president of automotive at NanoSteel, Craig Parsons, says: “Ford’s decision to switch from steel to aluminum for the body of the F-150 was the best thing to happen to NanoSteel. It brought the conversation about automotive materials to a wider audience and helped to focus attention on the trade-offs that are present in any material choice. “It also accelerated the steel industry’s desire for more alternatives to aluminum, which has opened opportunities for our organisation.”

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