Bumpers with more benefits

Brunel University and an Innovate UK team are now working on advanced alloys to build better bumpers.
6 June, 2017
Across the automotive industry, and for rail operators and aviation companies, the practice of lightweighting vehicles using durable and reliable aluminium has become commonplace. Customers want the fuel savings and environmental stewardship that come with the lighter weights, and companies know that their products and brands have to meet ever-more-stringent regulations to reduce carbon emissions.
Yet auto and rail manufacturers still have to rely on heavy steel bumpers, and finding a way to make those components lighter while maintaining the same high levels of safety and impact protection is a piece of the puzzle that's often been missing. At Brunel University in London, researchers are tackling that problem with research focused on new advanced aluminium alloys and casting techniques.

The Brunel Centre for Advanced Solidification Technology (BCAST) is partnering with Sarginsons Industries, Jaguar Land Rover and others on the development of a new lightweight aluminium alloy that is as strong as steel and totally recyclable. It's called the Lightweight Energy Absorbing Aluminium Structures for Transport (LEAAST) project, funded with £2.2m from the Innovate UK program. All told, 10 industrial partners and research institutions are working on aluminium auto and rail solutions.
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"Lightweighting technology is key to supporting manufacturers to improve their carbon footprint and to reduce emissions and we aim to very much keep at the cutting edge of pioneering technology," said Andy Evans, the managing director at Sarginsons in Coventry.

Two of the aluminium alloys arising from the project have proven to be successful in industrial trials, with improved strength and ductility. The new 3xx series cast alloy is about three times lighter than steel and, compared with previous alloys, has a yield strength of 310 MPa, an ultimate tensile strength of 365 MPa and elongation of 10 percent. The new 6xxx series wrought alloy can provide yield strength and elongation of more than 500 MPa and 10 percent, respectively. What that all means is that the alloys deliver a ratio of strength to density that enables parts made with them to absorb the required stresses and deform in a controlled manner under impact – precisely what the industries need in a bumper.
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As university researchers, the Brunel team is working on the development of these aluminium alloys, the technologies for recycling them, and other projects. It's hoped that their success will mean less dependence on steel, an issue that Anthony Evans says is critical to ground transport industries.

"While at present many automotive original equipment manufacturers have advanced aluminium automotive body designs, they still depend on steel for bumper beams," Evans said.
Jaguar Land Rover already has benefited from Innovate UK research, in partnership with BCAST and other project members. The REALCAR and REALCAR 2 projects have made it possible to build cars with up to 50 percent recycled aluminium that's derived from a new aluminium alloy developed by project partner Novelis. The alloy is "recycling friendly" and made using Jaguar's own manufacturing scrap.

The recycled aluminium is being used in the Jaguar XE, XF and F-PACE, the company said. The REALCAR 2 phase seeks to boost Jaguar's ability to use 75 percent recycled aluminium in its car bodies by 2020.

"You can make exciting cars that people want but you can also make them sustainable and make them environmentally friendly," said Mark White, the Jaguar Land Rover chief engineer. If the new alloys under development at Brunel work as planned, auto companies will find even more ways to do that.
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