Products and solutions, 2001-09-11, 02:00 AM
Steel opens up new perspectives in body making
Lighter vehicles with greater safety - the demands of the auto market are keeping the developers of materials and production technologies busy. Traditional concepts for auto components are coming under scrutiny, with added spice coming from the competition between aluminum and steel. Driven by the demands of the car sector, the steel industry is undertaking major efforts particularly in the body area to secure number one position for its product. "Tailored Tubes" is the new magic formula from steel industry development laboratories that is ushering in a new era in the structural design of cars.
Tailored tubes add a new dimension to tailored blanks, the customized sheets of different thicknesses and steel grades already used in many cars. They mean that the traditional body consisting of formed and joined sheet metal can now be replaced by a lightweight frame design which experts believe offers significant advantages. The newly developed tailored tubes were used for the first time in the ULSAB project and since then development work has continued apace. "There are currently more than 180 different prototypes undergoing testing at car plants around the world", says Wilfried Prange, head of applications engineering at Thyssen Krupp Stahl AG. The new products are made of specially developed high-strength steels which absorb significantly higher amounts of energy in a crash than conventional materials and thus contribute to greater safety.
The starting materials for tailored tubes are steel sheets which are first formed and then longitudinally welded by laser beam. Following a bending operation, hydroforming produces structural components of virtually any desired shape and with mechanical properties matched to actual load conditions in the body. According to the applications engineers at TKS the technology will be production-ready no later than a year from now.
The future of tailored tubes will be decided by auto manufacturers. It is in their plants and ultimately on the roads that this innovative steel solution will have to compete against alternative concepts, because aluminum producers too have launched a series of development projects.
However, the steel sector is facing this challenge with fresh confidence born of the rapid pace of innovation in recent years. TKS expects tailored tubes to be used in production bodies by 2004 at the latest, with initial demand of around 1.6 million parts per year (roughly 16,000 tons) rising after two years to four times that amount.
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