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Aluminium is stepping out of the shadows of steel to become the material of choice for vehicle makers as they strive to make their products lighter, more efficient and more environmentally friendly. By Daniel Jubera, Novelis director sales and marketing automotive Europe
Currently, there are 117 vehicles across the world using Novelis aluminium in a variety of applications: from the aluminium-intensive Audi A8 and Jaguar XJ series to the BMW 7 series one-piece door inners with integral window frames, for which Novelis won the BMW Supplier Innovation Award in November 201l.
On average, Europe's latest cars with aluminium in BiW contain 80Kgs of sheet aluminium, but this will grow to 100Kgs by 2015, as more manufacturers seek to gain weight reduction to improve their products' green credentials. We see a big step forward in body-in-white over the next five years, as vehicle programmes with a higher content of aluminium are signed off.
OEMs are pursuing different strategies, but we see the first step as using aluminium for hanging parts, such as doors, boot lids etc, that can be sub-assembled separately from the complete body-in-white, so it's easier to integrate.
The next step is to go to the body structure in the way JLR does with the XJ, and Audi with the A8, and even the A6 that has some aluminium structural parts in the body.
Light weighting with aluminium allows OEMs to downsize other components, as there is less mass to move around, so engine size, for instance, can be reduced and manufacturers can consider changing other materials as well.
This brings additional weight reduction, so there is this downward spiral in weight reduction, all initiated by using aluminium in the body.
Although we don't see electric vehicles (EVs) as a big market yet, it will develop over the next 10-20 years and using aluminium in ground up designs has a big advantage for EVs, allowing either smaller battery packs or improved range in lighter cars.
We also see more applications for crash safety systems; for example, bumper reinforcements are an area where we see new applications.
Cars are mainly designed using the characteristics of steel, so we need to have material that has formability as near as possible to steel. To enable the use of aluminium in more complex parts, such as door inners or body sides, with aggressive designs, we are developing new specification materials that are being tested by our customers and will soon be in the market.
While we are continuing to develop multi-layer Novelis Fusion technology, which BMW uses for its innovative one-piece door inner, research is being conducted into monolithic materials with different yield strengths.
Part of the growing use of aluminium for 'A' surfaces is down to new materials that Novelis has invested heavily in developing: Ac-170Px is a high quality outer skin that allows high formability and hemming performance for bonnets door outers and complex door outers.
Another new product is Ac-600PX, which can be used for inner and outer panels or structures. It's also 20% stronger material, so the gauge can be reduced by as much as 15%, which implies further weight and cost reductions by using less material. And because of its strength, it can be used especially in large parts.
We also have another new material called Ac-300 T61, which is a high strength crash alloy. Some aluminium alloys are brittle and can crack under crash conditions, but this new specification bends to absorb energy, meaning it can be used for long crash members or bumper beams.
New trends on the horizon will increase formability, strength and deliver higher levels of corrosion resistance. We believe that the right material mix is very important for the future, which is why we are investing in researching techniques for joining together different materials, such as steel/aluminium/
carbon fibre, as OEMs develop multi-material body structures.
Initially, aluminium is more expensive per kilo than steel. But since less aluminium is used for a given part, that saves weight and reduces the initial cost gap. Further cost savings come over the complete lifecycle with improved fuel consumption and reduced CO2 emissions.
The growth in end-of-life recycling is also an important trend, particularly when you consider that it only takes 5% of the energy needed to recycle aluminium, compared to the energy needed for the primary aluminium.
We work very closely with the OEMs to define closed loop systems, so that we can supply aluminium from their own scrap, and it's why we will create products that allow higher amounts of recycled aluminium than we currently have.
Big impact on footprint
Novelis' strategy is that, by 2020, 80% of our sheet aluminium will come from recycled material – that's a big impact on our CO2 footprint and will help our customers meet their sustainability objectives.
Today, Europe is the biggest market for body-in-white aluminium, but we see demand growing in other areas: North America and especially Asia where European OEMs are starting to build the same vehicles as they manufacture in Europe.
To this end, Novelis has recently announced two significant investments that will expand even further its capacity to respond to escalating demand for automotive sheet. It will invest approximately $200 million to expand by 200 kilotons its rolling operations in Oswego, NY, and a further $400 million to expand aluminum rolling capacity and recycling infrastructure in Asia; meanwhile we have opened our first Chinese offices in Shanghai.
These announcements come on top of the 2008 investment of $32 million investment in Novelis
Fusion casting technology at Sierre, Switzerland, in 2008, and a further
$11 million at the site last year.
Novelis wants to grow with the market to prepare ourselves for global demand, so we are available to all of our customers worldwide. We are committed to being a global business, so that we can supply our clients with the same high quality materials, irrespective of where their assembly plants are located.
Audi A8 tunnel
The use of Novelis FusionTM has enabled Audi to increase the strength of the floor tunnel, thus reducing overall vehicle weight and meeting the latest global crash requirements.
Novelis is the leading producer of rolled aluminium products in Europe and South America, the number two producer in both North America and Asia, and the global leader in aluminium beverage can recycling.
For more than 40 years, Novelis has been the leading global innovator of aluminium for the automotive industry, pioneering new alloys, treatments and finishes that enable automakers to create lighter weight, fuel-efficient cars and trucks.
In November 2011, Novelis was one of BMW's nine suppliers of the year, winning its Lightweight Construction category, in recognition of its development of a new type of multi-layer aluminium sheet that enables BMW to manufacture one-piece aluminium door structures, with integral window frames, to a design not achievable with conventional aluminium products. The new doors are 25% lighter than a similar steel design.
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