High-strength steel to cut vehicle weights and boost fuel economy

Traditional metal sheet forming allows volume production of automotive body parts such as doors and roofs via a process known as deep drawing. The metal spools off a huge roll to be pressed into a corresponding mold by a three-dimensional die. High-strength steel, such as high-alloy hardenable steel or high-nickel maraging steel, is starting to take over from conventional steel though as auto makers look to reduce vehicle weight and boost fuel economy without compromising safety or performance.

High-strength steel components can be both thinner and lighter without losing their stability, but working with this updated material poses production problems with the incredibly expensive molds wearing out more quickly under the added burden.

High-performance ceramics may provide the answer however due to their being very much harder than steel and so less likely to wear out. Ceramic material exhibits a high resistance to attritious wear which has led the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology to embark on the KeraForm project to produce high-performance ceramic inserts. As part of the project, the issue of high-performance ceramics being so hard that they can only be worked with diamond was addressed by identifying three conventional methods that are basically suitable for the job, and optimising them for the purpose.

Analysis: Lighter equals faster, or more efficient, or both which is my personal favourite. High performance, lightweight steel was mentioned by Michael Brylawski of the Rocky Mountain Institute as being an option for achieving the promise of the Hypercar Concept. With research being done on how to work with it, high-strength steel could make up a large part of your next car.

[Source: Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology]

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