Reducing Cost, Complexity with New Lightweighting Solutions
President and CEO
The tale of lightweighting is much more than a simple story about aluminum and steel. It’s a tale of new materials and methods that make vehicles more fuel efficient. It is also a tale of change and—at times—the discomfort it brings.
In the automobile industry, steel has long monopolized the vehicle bill of materials. Adding aluminum and other new alloys isn’t just a matter of flipping a switch or changing a die. The shift to lightweight materials—welcomed as silver bullets for achieving CAFE requirements—can cause hardship to the OEM plant floor if not done wisely.
The lightweight story is both an answer and a riddle. It is the suppliers’ job to provide a solution that is seamless to the process, that is beneficial to both design and manufacturing, and that adds value to the product without adding complexity to the production line. Determining how to “lightweight” without adding extra cost and creating confusion is exactly why transformation isn’t easy.
Our focus at Shiloh is on developing solutions that leverage the best of all materials for the lightest, strongest, quietest and most attractive possible outcome, without having to rebuild the OEM’s factory floor.
One such solution is curvilinear laser welding, which can reduce weight and has the added benefit of eliminating stamping “hot spots.” It’s a proven technology already in production at Shiloh for more than nine years.
Using a sophisticated multiaxis weld head along with equally complex seam-tracking software, we are able to maintain a constant angle and speed of the laser beam, even around curves. By moving the weld line out of critical forming areas, we are able to provide further material and cost optimization. This improves manufacturing throughput and reduces scrap in the stamping plants.
For example, when used on a door panel, a curvilinear weld option can remove an additional 1.125 kg of mass per unit compared to a base design door, or 4.5 kg per vehicle. Reducing downtime and scrap are added benefits.
We see big growth opportunities using curvilinear welding in conjunction with steel and that’s why we are conducting development work using aluminum as well.
On one OE’s liftgate, for example, Shiloh is applying curvilinear engineered welded blanks. The result: We’ve eliminated four support brackets, two stamping dies and one blank die. Steel consumption was reduced by 5.45 kg and the process eliminated welding operations and simplified supply-chain activities.
Achieving a reduction in weight and total cost while maintaining a vehicle’s structural integrity and functionality—and making it work easily on the plant floor—is what we call “lightweighting without compromise.” We are inventing the technologies that eliminate the tradeoffs of lightweight materials. In the new Cadillac ATS, for example, GM is utilizing ShilohCore Acoustic APL to cut costs, reduce weight, improve NVH quality and reduce the overall packing space in the dash.
Perhaps the greatest growth opportunity for aluminum is in complex, die-cast structural parts. Through our unique manufacturing processes, we can increase the ductility of aluminum while maintaining its strength. Our ThinTech shock towers are a great example. By casting this part using aluminum we can take what was nine individual stamped components and cast it as a single piece, reducing weight, part complexity and cost while at the same time improving quality.
In response to the overall market turnaround and the demand for lighter materials, smart suppliers are adding new technologies and increasing their manufacturing capacity. In purchasing Contech Castings LLC, our third recent acquisition, Shiloh has done both. Thanks to Contech’s proprietary, award-winning aluminum casting technologies, Shiloh now offers P2000 high-pressure squeeze casting, ThinTech high-vacuum casting, and other high-integrity conventional die casting.
This tale has many more chapters, as suppliers adapt and evolve, and develop new lightweight products and simplified processes that improve the overall ownership experience. For the automotive industry, it’s a great story to tell.
This article was first published in the 2013 edition of the Motorized Vehicle Manufacturing Yearbook.
Published Date : 11/13/2013