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Voice of the industry. (Shake Out).

Aluminum offers design engineers reduced weight. What opportunities and challenges lie ahead for aluminum foundries as they broaden the casting market and continue to convert components from heavier metals?

The design flexibility of aluminum is unparalleled, allowing designers to engineer optimum shape and performance for each specific application. Weight savings from a well-designed aluminum body structure allow designers to build lighter cars at current sizes or larger cars at standard automobile weights.

However, replacing steel with aluminum is expensive. Automakers are prepared to pay, but within limits. An aluminum body can cost twice as much as the steel version.

Using aluminum instead of steel can cut a vehicle's weight by 10%, which can boost its fuel economy up to 8%, or as much as 2.5 extra miles/gal. Over the average lifetime of a vehicle, every pound of aluminum that replaces 2 lb of steel can prevent 20 lb of [CO.sub.2] from being emitted. (statistics courtesy of www.autoaluminum.org)

Salvador Valtierra, research & development manager, Nemak Corp.

The conversion of heavier components to aluminum must overcome a number of issues to be successful. More technical information has to be made available to designers so that they can be comfortable with its use and properties.

One important development is the increase in use of aluminum-based composites. These aluminum materials can provide the key characteristics of ferrous materials, such as wear resistance and stiffness, that cannot be met by conventional aluminum alloys. As the price of these materials decreases, significant new markets may open for aluminum-based materials. Aluminum foundries need to be aware of these materials and understand their special processing requirements.

David Weiss, vice president engineering, Eck Industries, Inc.

Cast aluminum conversion opportunities exist in part consolidation, which achieves lighter-weight and lower-cost components. Key challenges face those foundries that wish to convert components.

* Cost--A cast aluminum component can cost more upfront but can lower lifetime operating costs. As an example, while cast iron costs less than aluminum in terms of raw materials, a vehicle with a cast aluminum block will use comparatively less fuel over its lifetime.

* Quality--The need for reduced weight has increased, but so has the desire for increased performance. Components must maximize properties especially in converting safety-related components.

* Perception--Some customers believe that aluminum is inherently a "weaker" metal than cast iron or steel. The key to changing perception is for the foundry to develop a mechanical property database of its cast aluminum alloys and to transfer this data to the component designers. In this way, the foundry can use its own data to help design the component for casting, ensuring that realistic mechanical properties are used so that the component functions successfully.

James M. Boileau, aluminum castings technical specialist, Cast Metal Science & Technology Group, Ford Research Laboratory

Aluminum foundries must have current technology because conversion will not be an appealing option if it is not easier and doesn't seem more "high-tech" than previous choices.

In today's day and age, an Internet site is a must. Electronic data capabilities and the ability to exchange digital files such as CAD models, simulations and CNC patterns allow a foundry to engage in almost instant communication with customers. As customers stay competitive and try to reduce costs, they want the one-stop shopping and faster turnarounds that digital capabilities provide.

The biggest downside to these improvements is, of course, cost. Bringing a foundry's technology up to speed is a big investment. Technology such as the Internet and CAD files is making the world a smaller place and allowing castings to sell internationally (both imports and exports). To keep up and grab a share of the customers looking for lighter weight components, we need to be able to offer them what they're looking for.

Gary Guzikowski, manager research & development and plant facilities, Norstar Aluminum Molds, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2002 American Foundry Society, Inc.
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Title Annotation:automobile aluminum casting
Comment:Voice of the industry. (Shake Out).(automobile aluminum casting)(Brief Article)(Column)
Author:Guzikowski, Gary
Publication:Modern Casting
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
Words:635
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