Metal Sintering is growing. That was one of the main topic discussions at The Global Automotive Lightweight Materials (GALM) show last month in Detroit.
Sintering is when manufacturers use heat and pressure to fuse together different metals and alloys. If done correctly, the composite materials can become stronger, more lightweight, last longer, or even help mitigate corrosion. With the demand for energy efficiency and weight reductions of automobiles, this process is certainly gaining more acceptance. One top car manufacturer gave a presentation on their new SUV manufacturing procedures that include the most extensive use of sintered metal components/parts that I have seen to date. I expect this usage will continue to grow, as indicated by the many discussions surrounding this topic during the show.
GALM dedicated a portion of the event to investigating lightweighting opportunities and “scrutinizing the latest advancements in composite solutions and benchmarking the most effective joining methods for mixed material designs.” The agenda included examination of the latest advancements in new grades and types of materials, an overview of the latest processing and manufacturing technologies through practical case studies, and discussion of the financial and technical feasibility of adopting new materials in high volume automotive manufacturing in the US.
Many factors have to be scrutinized when trying to make a lightweight material or when sintering. Cost reduction cannot be the only factor. Material experts, weight strategists, manufacturing and design practitioners hosted presentations that prompted attendees to ensure that only the most feasible solutions that were tried and tested in production were being adopted in the industry. In addition, top leaders in the industry presented case studies of their own applications they have applied to their vehicles.We previously wrote about The Lighter Side of the Automotive Industry and how new alloys are driving the positive material identification (PMI) programs in automotive manufacturing. Factors such as corrosion resistance, light weight, high strength, and ease of fabrication are the reasons why so many components are now being made from aluminum alloys. However, there are hundreds of different alloys, and they all must be composed of only the specific alloys designed for that particular component. As we outlined in that article, “Those minor differences can be catastrophic differences if the lack of appropriate elements, or a different composition of elements, is critical to the structural integrity of the vehicle. And even if it is not a catastrophic mistake, your brand will suffer if the part doesn’t work properly or doesn’t meet specifications.”
Luckily X-ray fluorescence (XRF) is a proven technology for the elemental analysis of specialty alloys to ensure the correct alloys are combined in the right percentages and the finished material meets precise manufacturing specifications. The XRF technique consists of irradiating a solid or a liquid sample with high energy x-rays from a controlled x-ray tube, which results in the emission of a fluorescent (or secondary) x-ray. This fluorescence is unique to the elemental composition of the sample. Because each element has its own characteristic “fingerprint,” an XRF analyzer can tell you with very high precision what elements are in the sample and in what quantity.
XRF can also be used to accurately measure the thickness of electro plating, passivation and conversion coatings, as well as help assess the chemical composition of high strength steels, magnesium and titanium alloys.
During the breakfast briefing on manufacturing quality control, I demonstrated the ability to safely analyze powdered metals within cups using a portable test stand. With the various coatings being used in the automotive industry, metal powder alloy composition analysis can be critical to the integrity of the finished product.
The Global Automotive Lightweight Materials (GALM) show really lived up to its own brochure description as ‘The most practical automotive conference bringing insights into the latest breakthroughs in lightweight materials and their application in high volume automotive production.”
Now let’s see if the automotive industry can live up to its own standards.