The materials used for lightweighting in transportation present different challenges, so selection requires careful choices, Ross Kozarsky, a LUX Research analyst and the report's lead author, told us. LUX Research conducted multiple decision-tree analyses to determine which materials are best used where, both now and 10 years from now. The decision-tree approach was designed to help automotive and aerospace companies, as well as suppliers and material developers. Kozarsky said:
Each material has its own portfolio of features, such as cost, environmental resistance, compatibility, tensile strength, thickness, corrosion, ability to absorb vibrations, and moldability. To best analyze an aircraft or an automobile, it needs to be broken down on the component level: what's the ideal material for each component?
Regardless of how much carbon fiber composites have entered into car designs such as Audi's, the biggest transportation lightweighting role in the near term will be played by high-performance metals like aluminum and advanced high-strength steel (AHSS), according to a new report from LUX Research. (Source: Audi)
AHSS and aluminum are on a similar part of the spectrum, said Kozarsky. "They are both the cheapest and offer the most incremental, rather than disruptive, performance changes. But for some applications, steel is better, and for others, aluminum is better." AHSS still offers high-volume automakers the lowest price and wide availability, so it continues to be the near-term leader. However, its limited ductility and welding can pose problems.
Because of the scale of its global giant producers, aluminum is second only to steel in cost and availability. On the report's structural materials spectrum its alloys occupy the middle ground. In many cases it's the best material for the short term, since it doesn't disrupt manufacturing patterns.
Rob, there are definitely industry differences. Generally speaking, aerospace has been using composites, both glass and carbon fiber-based, for decades, first in military planes and more recently in commercial aircraft (as well as in spacecraft). Whereas in cars it's more recent and confined primarily to race or specialty cars. Regarding metals, steel doesn't figure much in aircraft because of its weight; the primo metal there is aluminum. Metals in most commercial planes still average over 50%. In Detroit cars, metals are a much higher proportion, primarily because of the cost of composites and the difficulty in adapting their manufacturing to highly automated, high-volume automotive production. All of this is a moving target.
Ann, is there an industry component to whether new composites or legacy metals tend to win the lightweight argument? Seems that aerospace likes components. In the auto industry is there more bias toward steel? Or am I reading this incorrectly?
Dave, thanks for the feedback. I was impressed with the thorough, detailed approach this study took to the materials decision making process. There's been a lot more news about composites than about metals and, in fact, many of the R&D efforts I've reported on are new materials. Also, I've had a tough time getting many metals companies to talk to me about lightweighting, especially in the steel industry, especially for automotive applications. So thanks for the info about carburized steel. What I'm especially interested in is structural applications and AHSS, as well as titanium and magnesium in aerospace and/or automotive apps.
@Ann: Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article. There are some people who think that "lightweighting" means "make it out of plastic." This tends to go hand in hand with an idea that aluminum and steel are "old materials," while plastics and composites are "new materials."
The fact is that aluminum and steel technologies are hardly standing still. If you want evidence, just look at the new carburizing steels which QuesTek has developed. These alloys were developed from the ground up, starting with computational models. This is an exciting approach, which I think will bear even more fruit in the future.
It has been interesting to see steel fight back against new materials. Legacy materials and systems benefit from technology as well as new materials. Another example is the internal combustion engine. It may get so efficient that it edges out hybrids and EVs for consumers wanting to go green.
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