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Superhard Materials Help Futureproof Automotive

By Hubert Koegel Global Sales Director Automotive & Aerospace, Element Six

With younger generations migrating to cities and embracing digital lives, living habits are changing dramatically and ideas are spreading faster than ever. For the auto industry, these include ideas like the concept of shared transportation that will disrupt the automotive landscape. Others are the proliferation of 5G networks, AI technologies and electrical energy enabling more personal transport options. Consumers will watch movies, play games and work while traveling.

This does not mean the end of cars or even the internal combustion engine. Cars will remain an important part of the mobility mix. But the mix itself will include different options and the auto industry must prepare for fundamental change. By 2030, 10-20 percent of all cars will likely be propelled by battery rather than gasoline or hybrid power. Tighter restrictions on emissions, CO2 and noise will also affect how autos are manufactured, as sustainability and climate change continue to be important issues.

Innovation Imperatives

Well-publicized disruptors like Tesla regularly hit the headlines, but existing OEMs and top-tier parts suppliers are also pushing the boundaries of manufacturing from within the auto industry. In recent months, Ford CEO Jim Hackett pointed out that his company had been investing in “disrupting” technologies long before Tesla. Another traditional player, Toyota, has set ambitious sales targets for full-electric vehicles, while Nissan has pledged, alongside EVgo, to install 200 fast chargers in the U.S. to support plug-in electric cars.

As consumers focus more on aesthetics, customization, intelligence and sustainability, auto companies must find solutions within their manufacturing processes.

Such solutions can come with ever lighter and more innovative materials. With auto manufacturers facing new challenges daily, from changing industry trends to financial pressures, finding new ways to produce parts more effectively has become crucial.

Using superhard materials for machining can be one such solution. There are at least 150 application groups in an average car that currently rely on superhard materials.

Superhard Material Solutions

Element Six supplies these solutions, including synthetic diamond and cubic boron nitride (CBN). We collaborate with OEMs and toolmakers to develop solutions from the ingredient level, and go through multiple phases of testing in tooling environments to ensure our materials achieve maximum performance.

Automotive customers are increasingly demanding that electric cars do more and be more sustainable, meaning manufacturers need to maximize efficiency and machining speeds, while reducing costs. By eliminating impurities in the tooling materials used, end users experience increased toughness, resistance to chemical wear and greater reliability in the machining of hardened steel, used mainly in drivetrain gears and bearings.

This, in turn, increases tool life and efficiency in the machining process. Element Six has eliminated impurities in PureCut, our polycrystalline cubic boron nitride (PCBN) range of specialist machining tools, improving on industry benchmarks and producing cost savings.

With customers demanding more, and with the unrelenting pace of technological change in the auto industry, finding marginal gains can set you apart. A smart choice of tooling material enables increased machining speeds and improved wear predictability with superior quality per part. Superhard materials can deliver improved productivity and lower machining costs.

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