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Company News, 2007-09-12, 12:00 PM

Light and safe: Stainless steel producers show the future of the car

Using stainless steel in automotive construction can save weight and thus conserve resources without compromising safety standards. Light and safe are not mutually exclusive, and stainless steel can deliver solutions to meet rising environmental standards. That is the conclusion reached by the “Next Generation Vehicle” project, an alliance of leading stainless steel producers and automotive OEMs. The international research group is presenting its study today in Frankfurt am Main at the IAA, the world’s biggest motor show.

The project was launched at the end of 2004 with the aim of identifying potential for the use of stainless steel in auto construction. As part of the study, innovative materials were developed and tested for new applications – with groundbreaking findings. The automotive OEMs participating in the project were Audi, BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Fiat, General Motors/Saab and Ford/Volvo, while the stainless steel producers involved were ThyssenKrupp Nirosta (Germany), Outokumpu (Finland) and ArcelorMittal Stainless (France). “The challenge facing the project was to reconcile ecologically driven demands for lower weight with increasing safety standards,” said Dr. Alfred Otto, Chief Sales Officer at ThyssenKrupp Nirosta. “Our studies show that stainless steel offers solutions for the car of the future. We supply technologically mature and innovative stainless materials capable of meeting the high requirements involved,” he continued. “Using these tailored materials, automotive OEMs can produce vehicles which come closer to the important general aim of protecting the environment.”

The study, drawn up by development and applications engineers from the companies involved, shows that the use of stainless steel in vehicle construction can be especially beneficial in crash-relevant structural parts. The major advantages of stainless steels, such as high strength and weight reduction, make their extensive use both practical and expedient in resource-conserving auto production.

The aim of the “Next Generation Vehicle” project is to draw up processing guidelines for stainless steels as a prerequisite for their use. This was done with reference to B-pillars which were tested in crash simulations. The results were verified in collaboration with leading suppliers of simulation programs for metal forming which allow the crash performance of stainless steel to be simulated. These programs were developed further as part of the “Next Generation Vehicle” project. The project’s findings have been summarized in design and processing guidelines. The new software programs, which will also be available commercially in the future, meet a further requirement for the broader use of stainless steel. They open up new possibilities for automotive developers. The “Next Generation Vehicle” project also developed a cost model in collaboration with the Boston MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) which allows the use of different production methods and materials to be compared directly and the optimum stainless steel solution determined. “Next Generation Vehicle” will continue its work in the coming months.

Stainless steel already offers attractive possibilities to automotive development engineers. For example, specially developed materials from ThyssenKrupp Nirosta are already being used in auto construction to make crash components for the Porsche Carrera GT, roll bars for the Porsche Boxster, components for the Audi A 6 and frame structures for the Audi A 8. In some areas this is already leading to a reduction in parts count and costs.

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