A material like aluminium has multiple benefits, and simulation will be an important aspect in the development of components with this material
In recent times, it has been observed that aluminium has been gaining importance as a material of choice for various components in the automotive sector. The metal gained entry into the industry in the form of cylinder heads for engines, and has been continuously replacing other metal parts in the automotive scenario over a period of time. Aluminium offers unique features of being lightweight, while remaining strong and durable. A main feature of this metal is that it is not prone to rust, which enables it to have a long life when compared to other traditionally-used materials.
In the initial shift towards aluminium, the automotive industry saw components such as heat exchangers, wheels, engine heads and blocks being manufactured out of the metal. Now, components including bonnet, doors and Body-in-White (BIW) are being constructed out of aluminium. The main benefits of aluminium when compared to other is the reason companies are moving towards this material, even when the cost of the metal itself may be higher than that of materials used earlier.
Pieter Klinkers, CEO, Maxion Wheels, talks about the company’s global presence and new focus areas around aluminium. He said the rationale behind creating a new entity called Maxion Wheels Aluminium India Pvt Ltd, when it already has a steel wheel facility in Pune aluminium is that it is a different process. India is an important market, and Maxion is excited to participate in its growth journey by strengthening its existence of over two decades in the country with the launch of this new plant. The current penetration of aluminium wheels for passenger cars in India is around 25-30 % and is expected to go up to 45-50 % over the next few years. Given this scenario, it is important to expand the company’s aluminium wheel presence, as well as add more capabilities to cater to the automotive wheel demand in India, Klinkers added.
The most prominent advantage of using aluminium over other materials is in the lower weight of this metal. This factor enables component manufacturers to be able to supply lighter components, which eventually addresses the overall efficiency of the vehicle. However, the lightweight characteristic of aluminium does not affect the strength of the metal, since it has a high level of tolerance to external forces. This provides component suppliers with a material that is rugged, which is a top requirement for the automotive industry.
Additionally, aluminium as a metal is not affected by moisture, and therefore does not have the complications of rust. This feature, combined with the high level of strength of the material means it is a very durable material that can be used across various operating conditions. This makes aluminium a natural choice for the automotive sector.
In more recent times, it has also been seen that aluminium is being recycled and re-used in the automotive industry. Therefore, the quality of recyclability provides aluminium with the feature of being eco-friendly, which has far more serious advantages that any of its other benefits. It has also been noted that the levels of purity of recycled aluminium meet required mechanical standards to be used in the construction of components like body panels for vehicles.
FUTURE OF ALUMINIUM
The increased use of aluminium as the main material for construction of chassis is being seen in high-end cars, which not only helps in reducing weight, but also provides improved stiffness and torsional rigidity. Such usage is expected to trickle into mainstream models in the future, which currently feature aluminium body parts like bonnets and boot lids. In terms of wheels, there has been a growing trend of aluminium being used as the material of choice
Similarly, it has been observed that electric vehicles also feature battery boxes made of aluminium for their inherent property of being low in weight. For EVs, body weight reduction directly relates to increased range, which is the main requirement. In addition, the electromagnetic interference from aluminium is low, which enables manufacturers to increase the content of electronics without any issues.
There was a line of thinking among people that aluminium wheels were only meant for the luxury car segment and had more to do with fashion, but now even small vehicles are using aluminium wheels, Klinkers noted. He said the pace of aluminium wheel penetration could catch up faster in India than the rest of the world. In addition, aluminium wheels will witness further development, as they offer different style options. Furthermore, with regards to autonomous vehicles, there might be completely new type of wheels, maybe even cheaper, Klinkers added. Surely there will be more changes in the kinds of wheels Maxion will have over the next 10 years, he observed.
The use of a relatively new material such as aluminium in the construction of components will require extensive verification and validation to bring out the various possibilities of utilising the material. Virtual simulation can be of assistance in evaluating a vehicle’s architecture with the use of a material like aluminium to reach the best trade-off between performance, range and comfort. Simulation can provide valuable inputs on the characteristics of acoustics and NVH, which can further enable the increased use of aluminium in the construction of additional components and products.
TEXT: Naveen Arul