It was apparent at the recent Great Designs in Steel seminar that steel plans on stealing a page or two from the plastics’ playbook in the key automotive battleground. Steel has several advantages to start with. The manufacturing infrastructure to make steel parts exists, and in fact represents a significant capital investment. Steel also has a strong recycling track record (to say nothing of performance). It seems intuitive that the high gas prices will kick start already existing efforts to reduce weight of cars. But not so fast. New grades of steel reduce weight, and also play into the trend to boost safety performance, particularly for the sides and rear of vehicles. For example an ultra high strength steel (boron-alloyed 22 MnB5) cuts 2 kg for a side crash panel in BMW’s new X6 Sports Activity Coupe. The seven-passenger Acura MDX body structure contains 56 percent high-strength steels, including several new advanced grades. It may surprise some, but some of these new grades are significantly more formable than your father’s steel, allowing creation of complex shapes previously only possible with plastic.
Norway-based additive manufacturing company Norsk Titanium is building what it says is the first industrial-scale 3D printing plant in the world for making aerospace-grade metal components. The New York state plant will produce 400 metric tons each year of aerospace-grade, structural titanium parts.
Siemens and Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology have achieved a faster production process based on selective laser melting for speeding up the prototyping of big, complex metal parts in gas turbine engines.
BMW has already incorporated more than 10,000 3D-printed parts in the Rolls-Royce Phantom and intends to expand the use of 3D printing in its cars even more in the future. Meanwhile, Daimler has started using additive manufacturing for producing spare parts in Mercedes-Benz Trucks.
SABIC's lightweighting polycarbonate glazing materials have appeared for the first time in a production car: the rear quarter window of Toyota's special edition 86 GRMN sports car, where they're saving 50% of its weight compared to conventional glass.
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