Automotive emissions and safety regulations continue to keep the steel and auto industries on their toes, and driverless cars and peer-reviewed automotive services lead to speculation about which cutting-edge materials will be prioritised in the future. Matmatch outlines some of the automotive industry’s biggest challenges in 2018 and how the steel industry is responding.
Steel – Then and Now
The first steel cars on the market typically contained just one grade of mild steel in the body. As consumer demands for lightness and durability became more complex, steel manufacturers customized their grades accordingly. Today’s “body-in-white” contains several types of steels with optimized properties. The priority is on mass reduction, durability and safety on the road. Most of the steels now used for auto part production are “high-strength”, “ultra-high-strength” or “advanced high-strength” temperature-treated steels.
Advanced High-Strength Steels (AHSS)
Manufacturers can meet incredibly high standards of malleability and tensile strength by manipulating microstructures and chemical compositions to an extremely high degree of precision. Once the yield strength of a type of steel exceeds 550 MPa, it is classified as an AHSS. Advanced high-strength steels are manufactured using precisely controlled heating and cooling treatments. Some of the newest types of AHSS on the market include TWIP (twinning-induced plasticity), TRIP (transformation-induced plasticity), CP (complex phase) and DP (dual phase), as well as press-hardened, hot-formed, martensitic and ferritic-bainitic steels.
In the automotive industry, materials used to form vehicle parts are chosen based on a number of important criteria, among them bending stiffness, torsion stiffness, tensile strength and 3-point bending. The automotive industry calls for continuous research and development into AHSS to maximize the strength of steels used for parts while enhancing safety, reducing weight and providing a viable alternative to aluminium.
Steel and the Automotive Industry in the Last Decade
In 2009, the Obama administration in the US proposed a policy to regulate exhaust emissions and increase fuel efficiency. At the time, the average vehicle’s fuel economy performance was measured at 25 mpg, predicted to double to 54.5 mpg by 2025 if the policy was implemented successfully.
Under the Trump administration, the current emissions standards are under review, with some expecting a rollback of the strict emissions standards set by the previous government. Regardless of the outcome here, the automotive industry has continued its research into and commitment to weight reduction, AHSS development and emissions control at a state and organizational level.
The Outlook for 2018 and Beyond
The key driver in the automotive industry in 2018 and beyond continues to be the quest for lightweight vehicles in the interest of emissions reduction. The automotive industry has been investigating the incorporation of lightweight materials such as aluminium, magnesium, carbon fiber or plastic composites into the mix. Aluminum can offer an average weight reduction of 11 percent per vehicle while still meeting safety and fuel economy standards, however, aluminium does not compare to AHSS in terms of durability and strength, and the latter also offers a significant weight reduction.
Additionally, aluminium, magnesium, carbon fiber and plastic composites are more expensive than steels. With driverless cars, car sharing and electric mobility gaining traction, vehicles need to be durable enough to withstand constant use and consumers need to be reassured that their safety is ensured. Thus, the demand for advanced high-strength steels in the automotive industry is expected to increase significantly in the coming years.
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