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Aluminum Foam for Automotive Application

 

Modern automobiles call for several advanced features such as energy efficient crash safe structures, efficient thermal management system, silent ride and reduced vibration. Aluminium foams not only have high energy absorption and sound absorption characteristics, but are also light weight. Inclusion of aluminium foams into automotive structures increases the levels of density compensated design indices such as bending stiffness, bending strength, energy absorption, flexural damping etc. The possible application areas of aluminium foam in automobiles are: crash box, pillars and frames, Rear Under Protection Device (RUPD), Side Under Protection Device (SUPD), engine mount brackets, floor panels etc.

Crashbox: A crash box is placed between the impact beam and the front rail of the car to absorb medium speed collision energy, thereby reducing repair costs. The benefits of SAF-filled crash boxes include:

  • Eliminate damage to the front rail by absorbing the energy from collisions with speeds up to 20km/hr, thereby localizing damage and reducing repair costs.
  • Absorb energy in off-axis collisions more efficiently than hollow-section designs.
  • Absorb more energy than an empty section of similar mass.

Rails: These sections offer very good bending stiffness for weight, but often fail prematurely because of localized damage. Traditionally, steel stampings are used for additional support at weak points in a rail such as curves, but these additional parts add complexity and cost to the system.

The advantages of using Stabilized Aluminum Foam (SAF) filled rails are outlined below:

  • Strength, energy absorption and length of the elastic range of a SAF-filled rail are improved by preventing premature failure at a flaw or curvature.
  • Consolidating or eliminating small reinforcement stamps can reduce the cost of the part.
  • The weight of the rail can be reduced compared to a traditional stamped reinforced rail with the same energy absorption and strength.
  • Passenger safety is improved by reducing intrusion into the passenger compartment in the case of high-speed crashes.

Aluminum Foam for Automotive Application

Bumper: The demands being placed on bumper systems are becoming increasingly complex. Safety requirements for occupants and pedestrians demand more functionality. The consumer and the insurance industry desire systems that are easily repairable and that protect other, more expensive, components.

  • Aluminium Foam does not rebound after it is compressed, which reduces whiplash concerns.
  • Aluminium Foam can increase the threshold collision speed before the impact beam is damaged.
  • Designs placing Aluminium Foam in the back bumper would better pass the rear centerline pole test.
  • Aluminium Foam may allow for a thinner bumper profile and greater design freedom.

Internal Occupant Protection: Internal occupant protection is largely concerned with reducing the severity of head injury experienced by the occupant in an accident. Examples of internal automotive parts that could be made from SAF are headliners, headrests, and A and B pillar covers.

  • The properties of Aluminium Foam do not change with temperature.
  • The properties of Aluminium Foam do not significantly change with speed of impact.
  • An Aluminium Foam energy absorber can be precision engineered to meet HIC requirements exactly by varying the density of Aluminium Foam used.
  • Aluminium Foam can absorb large amounts of energy in every direction.

A and B Pillars: Foam can be inserted into pillars and held in place by adhesive, expanding polymer foams or by mechanical methods. The Benefits are similar to those noted in rail-reinforced applications and include:

  • Bending strength can be increased by as much as three times over hollow pillars.
  • Absorbed energy in side impact and rollover accidents is increased.
  • Performance in the roof crush test (FMVSS 216) is improved.
  • Weight reductions can be realized by decreasing steel gauge.

Hoods: Impending legislation in Europe will require car makers to make pedestrian safety an integral consideration in front-end design. One element of the legislation is protecting pedestrians from injury when the pedestrian’s head hits the hood. Advantages of an SAF hood are given below.

  • Aluminium Foam provides a simple, passive solution (compared to very complex, active solutions that are being considered, such as airbags).
  • Aluminium Foam with a plastic cover protects the head and provides a Class A finish, protection from debris and vandalism, and rebounds after the collision for appearance considerations (similar to the fascia on a bumper).
  • Aluminium Foam exhibits no rebound after compaction. This means it slows the head to a stop and does not accelerate in the opposite direction (whiplash considerations).

Stabilized Aluminum Foam (SAF) Cores for Castings: The aluminum foundry and die-casting industry typically uses sand cores to make hollow cavities in metal castings and rib structures where stiffening is required.

  • SAF would not have to be removed after casting (a sand core is usually vibrated out) therefore holes are not necessary in the casting.
  • The SAF core may cost less than the solid aluminum it replaces, depending on the application.
  • SAF can collapse in an accident, providing energy absorbing properties to a casting.

 

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