Aluminum is considered a growth market today but has been a key material for automakers from the very beginning.
In this article we will talk about its use throughout history in this industry, and the processes used for various applications.
The first sports car featuring an all aluminum body was exhibited at the third Berlin International Motor Show in 1899. Two years later, the first engine with aluminum parts was developed by Carl Benz.
Following World War II, production of aluminum had become sufficiently cost effective to be considered for use in production vehicles. The world’s first V-8 engine blocks made with aluminum cylinders were produced by the British Rover Company in 1961.
From there, aluminum automobile parts gained a foothold in wheels and transmission casings and then moved into cylinder heads, suspension joints and body structures.
This recyclable metal is now the leading material for use in powertrain and wheel applications and continues to gain market share in hoods, trunks, doors and bumpers – and complete vehicle structures.
Increasingly, consumers are demanding more fuel-efficient vehicles. Considering this – along with new fuel economy regulations that will require the U.S. vehicle fleet to average 54.5 miles per gallon (19.3kpl) by 2025 – the auto industry is responding. One example of this is Ford’s all-aluminum body F-150 pickup truck.
This move toward aluminum has profound implications. The Ford F-150 is the most popular vehicle of any kind in the United States and one of the most profitable motor vehicle lines in the world. The 2015 F-150 truck shed 700 pounds (318kg), approximately 15 percent of the vehicle body weight, with a high-strength, military-grade all-aluminum body.
This weight reduction enables Ford’s trucks to go further on a gallon of gasoline and opens the door to other changes, such as smaller engines, that can further boost fuel economy.
Development of aluminum components required metallurgists to explore different heat treatments dependent on the alloy and heat treatment process. Today, the most common heat treatments for automotive manufacturers are T6 and T7 Solution Heat Treatment.
- Solution heat treatment is carried out by raising the alloy temperature to about 1000°F (~540°C) and holding it there for the appropriate time to ensure that the elements have dissolved.
- The purpose of this is to dissolve all the alloying elements in a solid solution in the aluminum.
- Then the alloy is quenched in water and sometimes polymer to reduce distortion to the aggressiveness of water.
- The purpose of quenching isn't really to strengthen the alloy (although it does somewhat); it is to cool it rapidly enough to prevent the alloying elements from precipitating on cooling.
The aluminum components become a solid solution of magnesium, silicon, and other elements in aluminum at room temperature. This is called the ‘T4 temper’.
If this material is taken and heat treated at a temperature between 325°F and 400°F (163°C-204°C), the alloying elements begin to form into ordered arrays of atoms in the aluminum matrix. These arrays are called GP-zones, and they strengthen the aluminum considerably. This heat treatment is called aging, which results in material with a T6 temper.
The thermal processing of high-volume cast aluminum components is a key concern of automotive engineers today. As a result, auto manufacturers have worked closely with designers of customized furnace systems in the development of new cylinder head, engine block, wheels and suspension component heat treatment systems.
Nutec Bickley designs and manufactures equipment used for the solution heat treatment of:
- Aluminum cylinder heads
- Engine blocks
- Suspension components
- Other thin-wall high pressure die castings
Our aluminum processing equipment includes:
- Roller hearth furnaces
- Basketless heat treatment systems
- Drop bottom furnaces
- Batch furnace systems
- Quench tanks
- Air quenches
- Aluminum age ovens
Nutec Bickley is focused on understanding our customers’ thermal equipment needs and working to supply the best equipment to meet those demands at the most competitive price. By applying the latest proven technology, Nutec Bickley is able to provide innovative solutions that meet or exceed our customers’ expectations in equipment quality, production efficiency and operational economy.