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Technology

Steel Treatment Paves the Way For Radically Lighter, Stronger, Cheaper Cars (gizmag.com) 236

Zothecula writes: Radically cheaper, quicker and less energy-intensive to produce than regular steel, Flash Bainite is stronger than titanium by weight, and ductile enough to be pressed into shape while cold without thinning or cracking. It's now being tested by three of the world's five largest car manufacturers, who are finding they can produce thinner structural car components that are between 30-50 percent lighter and cheaper than the steel they've been using, while maintaining the same performance is crash tests. Grain of salt: the positive claims here are mostly coming from the company responsible for the process.
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Steel Treatment Paves the Way For Radically Lighter, Stronger, Cheaper Cars

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 13, 2015 @05:54PM (#51111013)

    When new, this may perform great. But I guess rust will eat it like any other steel plate. And then it becomes quite important what thickness you started with.

    Vajk

    • I'd like it if they used the same thickness as the regular steel, just making the car stronger.

      • by ArmoredDragon ( 3450605 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @06:24PM (#51111127)

        Problem with that is you don't gain the benefit of collisions that are probably less dangerous (less kinetic energy is required for movement) and no fuel savings (again, less kinetic energy.)

      • by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @06:43PM (#51111207)

        Stronger cars are bad - we learned that long ago. What you want is weak (to the point of maximum energy absorption per unit acceleration) cars, and strong survival cells.

        • No, you want the other guy's car to be weak. He can be your crumple zone :-) .

          But if you run into a tree ...

        • Actually, the front of the car may remain weaker (in the event that I hit a tree), but the rear should be strong (for the event when someone hits my car when I stop to allow a pedestrian to pass). I wouldn't mind the extra fuel consumption to save some of the time it takes to repair my car after such accident.

      • Reminds me at those guys in a german "tank" in Kosovo.

        The commander was sitting with his torso half outside of the hatch. They passed a small bridge, something like 5m - 10m, just over a small ditch. The road edge/bridge edge broke away and the tank dropped down like 5m, turning on top of its head.

        Obviously the tank commander was a causality.

        Not so obvious, the crew as well ... why would anyone strap in inside of a tank?

        Why this anecdote is related to the request to make cars stronger ... is left as an exer

    • Then you likely have to replace an entire body panel or structural member instead of welding a new piece in, depending on how skilled you are with welding thin metal.

    • ...might turn an advanced material vehicle into a Coors can on wheels. Some high strength steels are notoriously susceptible to corrosion, welding and/or post-impact problems.

      Unwelded, single piece objects with any necessary protective coatings, or in single use applications, are rapid to develop. We can be excited and apprehensive about these type of advances.
      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        From the article, it's not a special alloy, just a heat process. I don't know if that would affect the corrosion rate, mind you - obviously it's concerning if they use less metal. Still, bare minimum, it shouldn't affect one's ability to galvanize it.

        • by rbrander ( 73222 )

          I believe the point is that every member would be thinner. It might have a faster or same or even slower corrosion rate, but still have a shorter lifespan.

          Ductile iron water pipes appear to corrode about 30% slower in mils/yr than the earlier cast iron; but the cast iron pipes, less strong, were twice as thick, so they're still in service as ductile iron pipes 20 years younger are failing. You can cathodically protect the earlier metals too...and all other things (like that) being equal, the thicker pie

    • by Dereck1701 ( 1922824 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @08:23PM (#51111551)

      Making metal parts extremely corrosion resistant is pretty easy, most manufacturers simply choose to go the cheap way to decrease sales prices and increase profits. While I am sure some manufactures would like for their vehicles to fail more quickly to increase their sales due to what has become known as "planned obsolescence". However hopefully they fear the fallout if their vehicles deteriorate too quickly, I think there was a well known instance in the UK where a manufacturer (Lancia I believe) built a car out of cheap metal that rusted quickly and were forced to buy back many of the cars they sold and their loss of reputation in the UK eventually forced them out of that market.

      • We can't be too cheap, though. There are certain markets with a mandatory 10 year corrosion warranty requirement, for example. And there are other areas that are pretty much desert all year long. Depending on the particular destination market, we absolutely do build cars differently. In the vast majority of cases the processes are identical (e.g., ecoating, sealing, paint), but we'll use different coating weights (maybe bare for the Middle East, and 50g/cm^2 for Europe) on particular parts (e.g., the roof p

      • Metal used for car's body costs about 1500$ per small car (e.g. Fiesta).
        They are already quite good, lasting well over 10 years without any corrosion whatsoever. (zin coating etc)

        Replacing it with stainless steel would increase costs 5 fold => 7500$ per car body.
        Not viable.

        And to "increase profit"... Many manufacturers are struggling to barely make it even.
        Only luxury cars have good margins.

        • What part of my post suggested building cars out of more expensive materials? Simply powder coat or paint exposed parts with a more durable coating. When done on a manufacturing scale it shouldn't add more than a percent or two to the cost of the individual coated parts, probably less than $50 to a whole car.

    • Q&A . . . Lots of great input, thank you. Hope the answers help.
      1) The reason there is not more hype is pretty simple.
      "Big Steel" emailed we can't even attend their public events because "Flash Bainite competes with their products" made in their $400M furnaces.
      Big Steel and their Academic friends are dug in pretty deep to protect marketspace and profits.
      We'd like to work with Big Steel when they're ready but for now favorable licensing is available to others in the supply chain.

      2) As for corrosion, Flash 1600 has already passed the 400 hour salt spray test. Paint/bake and chrome plating work well too.
      E-galvanizing is already used by OEMs so Flash will start in hidden structural parts (not Class A visible) so rust would have to get through other parts first.

      3) The reason 7% stronger Flash can make parts 30-50% lighter is that Flash Bainite can be formed/bent into complex shapes at vastly higher strengths than other advanced high strength steels.
      Flash's extra 7% strength for a given alloy is just a bonus. The US Army did 5mm thick Charpy tests and found no catastrophic ductile to brittle transition down to -40 degrees.
      There's also energy absorption results on tubing that an OEM allowed to be presented a few years ago at Cambridge Univ which outperformed five leading vehicles' door beams by 15-20% at the same mass.

      4) Stress Corrosion can happen in all AHSS but the Steel Industry and Auto OEMs know how to handle this.
      SCC can happen when hydrogen migrates on the grain boundary surface area. AHSS is highly grain refined thus lots of total surface area.
      Flash Bainite has notably larger grains so there is expected to be less SCC with much less boundary surface area for hydrogen to move on.

      5) I completely disagree that Flash is brittle.
      Aside from the testing at Auto OEMs withheld due to NDAs, look at the cover photo of the Crush Can at 48 Rockwell C and see how the Flash folded.
      I am unaware of any other material at 48Rc that can fold to absorb energy without shattering.

      6) I don't think Flash in a car is decades away with 2025's 54mpg fast approaching.
      Three very large OEMs are asking for coils of steel asap and one is about ready for running changes.
      While we are focusing on a modest production capacity in-house, we are very open to licensing Flash to others to meet the Auto needs . . .
      And every other Industry looking for lighter, stronger, safer, less costly, readily weldable metal.
      GaryCola 12th December, 2015 @ 9:43 p.m. (California Time)

      • by mlts ( 1038732 )

        I know where this technology would come in handy... the RV industry.

        The RV industry doesn't have the economies of scale that the auto industry does, and they are very sensitive to the economy because their products are relatively expensive for the market they are aiming at. RVs also have a lot of different parts, being the union of vehicles and homes.

        Where this metal would come in handy would be for building RVs, perhaps replacing fiberglass panels, especially roofs (which the average travel trailer uses a

    • "When new, this may perform great. But I guess rust will eat it like any other steel plate. And then it becomes quite important what thickness you started with."

      Much the better (for them). Programmed obsolescency out of the box. Big win.

  • by Dutchmaan ( 442553 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @05:58PM (#51111033) Homepage
    While light is wonderful for fuel efficiency, I'm finding that with each new generation of car I drive, strong lateral gusts of wind tend to pose more of a problem while driving. This is purely conjecture of course, but I just don't remember having these troubles in the past, where it's harder to immediately compensate for a sudden strong gust of wind that can literally alter your cars course in an instant.
    • Don't worry, they will find ways to fill up the free weight with more stuff.

    • Sooo true on smaller cars, lateral gusts and the turbulence created by large trucks.
    • Stop driving with your knees while texting.

    • It's really not an issue - be loose, don't jerk the wheel fast, go with the flow. It's what we motorcyclists have been doing since the beginning. Sidewinds and big rig trailers - not really an issue once you trust the wheels to keep you upright.
    • While light is wonderful for fuel efficiency, I'm finding that with each new generation of car I drive, strong lateral gusts of wind tend to pose more of a problem while driving. This is purely conjecture of course, but I just don't remember having these troubles in the past, where it's harder to immediately compensate for a sudden strong gust of wind that can literally alter your cars course in an instant.

      Well, given that cars are heavier today than the same model from 30 years ago, I'd guess that the problem is that cars are taller than they used to be and present a larger side profile to crosswinds.

      • Well, given that cars are heavier today than the same model from 30 years ago

        Odd. Just checked the Lincoln Continental randomly, and its weight is half to three-quarter ton lighter than it was when I was a kid....

        • Odd. Just checked the Lincoln Continental randomly, and its weight is half to three-quarter ton lighter than it was when I was a kid....

          I was referring to the small cars that the OP was talking about, but actually, the 2015 Continental is about the same or slightly heavier than a 30-year-old (1985) Continental.

        • I picked a car at random too, Golf Mk2 was ~950kg, Golf Mk7 is 1250kg.

          The smaller cars got heavier, and the larger cars have gotten smaller (not just lighter). But if you want to really stack the examples, a 60s era Austin Mini weighs 630kg, a current Mini Cooper weights 1200kg.

          Cars have changed in all sorts of ways.

          • Smaller cars have got heavier because they've gotten a bigger, but they've become less dense. It's happened to every small car out there, Fiesta, KA, Golf, Polo, Ibiza. Models get bigger, and they keep on coming up with a new small model to fill the gap. One explanation is that people tend to stick with what they know, but as they get older, they want and can afford a bigger car.

            For example:
            Golf mk2 : 3,985 mm x 1,665 mm - 910kg
            Golf mk7: 4,255 mm x 1799mm - 1250kg

            I can't think of any large cars that have go

            • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

              I doubt the majority of the extra mass is down to just the size. Making a car a few centimetres wider and longer will add a few kg at most because the while bigger it is mostly air you are looking at. The height being the most extreme example as you are just adding mass at the pillars.

              The extra weight is coming from all the safety features. All those side impact bars and the like, along with all the electronic systems modern cars have. Even the tyres on a modern car are heavier than in the past. We have gon

            • In my opinion, car (or at least model) sizes are going one direction - up.

              Individual models may, but the question is what are people driving? If I look at the road now compared to the 60s cars on the whole have most definitely gotten smaller. Even the famed Hummer now comes in several significantly smaller sizes than the classic of old. This gives the large models room to grow without cutting into the underlying revenue

              Now that should be geographically qualified. America has an insane amount of huge cars so much so that we were joking that the first car we'll see coming out of th

    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @08:20PM (#51111547) Homepage

      A car's vulnerability to lateral gusts is a combination of not just its mass, but also its cross section and its lateral drag coefficient. Unfortunately the effects of winds not directly aligned forward/backwards are often ignored on cars, which is unfortunate - even ignoring gusts, you can have a very streamlined car whose drag coefficient goes to heck because it starts facing crosswinds. Part of that stream that you're working so hard to keep laminar and attached suddenly plunges off over the edge of your car in an uncontrolled manner and detaches - that's not a good thing, and it doesn't take that strong of winds to happen! It's something that's starting to get increasing attention, and hopefully will even moreso in the future - because a car's vulnerability to gusts and its fuel economy are tied together in the real world, particularly in windy areas. Some well-placed vortex generators over the doors for example could really help with both, maybe a sort of horizontal kammback approach as well.

    • by kesuki ( 321456 )

      there is a little thing that i recall from the 1980's called a 'spoiler' that gives more stability in high winds. and can be motorized, and automated for 'eco' mode driving vs, detected turbulence. in the 80's it was needed to get a car over a certain speed i am too lazy to look up the exact speed though.

  • If it isn't corrosion resistant and brings a cars life expectancy down, it will be a big issue in the car industry. But look to bikes and industrial assembly lines for positive impact.
    • There are things you can do......some manufacturers put plastic along the bottom edge of the car, where the cars are most likely to corrode. And of course, you can always paint the car.

      All in all, if you can find a way to make cars lighter, that's a huge win for agility, speed, and fuel economy. It's a good thing.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 13, 2015 @06:23PM (#51111117)

    I did some graduate work with this company (I'm a Welding Engineer) and it is indeed interesting, but I realllllly wish they would stop calling it Flash Bainite. There is 0% bainite structure in the material, it can only form with slower heating/cooling rates. Call it "flashite" or something else. The problem with the material is as soon as you heat the material back up you lose all of the bonus properties. Right now all of the panels/pieces that automotive would look to replace with this have lots of spot/mig welds on them, so those areas would be much weaker after the fastening work was done.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      And there this "magic" metal loses its magic. Not a surprise. As so many other "revolutionary" technologies, it may or may not find a niche. It will not change the game anytime soon.

    • I did some graduate work with this company (I'm a Welding Engineer) and it is indeed interesting, but I realllllly wish they would stop calling it Flash Bainite. There is 0% bainite structure in the material, it can only form with slower heating/cooling rates. Call it "flashite" or something else. The problem with the material is as soon as you heat the material back up you lose all of the bonus properties. Right now all of the panels/pieces that automotive would look to replace with this have lots of spot/mig welds on them, so those areas would be much weaker after the fastening work was done.

      If they just called it 'Flash' we would really hate it.

    • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @07:21PM (#51111331) Homepage Journal

      Right now all of the panels/pieces that automotive would look to replace with this have lots of spot/mig welds on them, so those areas would be much weaker after the fastening work was done.

      Not to downplay your area of expertise, but note that you said 'right now'. Right now these pieces have lots of welds on them, but that's because it's the best option with current technology. There are alternative attachment methods. Bolts, screws, epoxy, slots, etc... Each has their own advantages and downsides.

      Or they could just have the weld spots be thicker to accept the weld/lowered strength, while the majority of the part/panel is thinner.

      • by guruevi ( 827432 )

        The problem in cars is the vibration. It's even evident on circuit board manufacturing for cars. Bolts and screws all have the problem that they vibrate lose, epoxy the same thing (it cracks), slots and epoxy also come apart with any type of warping (eg. impact) while bolts and screws can easily sheer through metal in those situations (they act as a really dull knife). Welding and soldering are the only methods that results in an equal or higher strength than doing it in one piece.

        A metal that you can't wel

        • (rusty engine bolt results in the entire car becoming unstable).

          Well, I'd imagine since this process is heat sensitive, you wouldn't be using it on parts that may become hot like the engine itself.

          As for the rest, there's a reason I said 'downsides'. Still, we're doing some amazing stuff with other options. For example, despite it being vibration central, we can keep bolts from loosening in the engine itself. Most of the problems can be worked around.

        • epoxy the same thing (it cracks), slots and epoxy also come apart with any type of warping (eg. impact)

          And yet there's several well known performance cars which are epoxied and not welded as the primary method of holding together the chassis.

          Don't pretend that this is an insurmountable problem. It's like those people who say you can't use Aluminium for cars despite the existence of several Aluminium cars on the road.

    • by endoboy ( 560088 )

      two possibilities:
          1) you're making it up
          2) you just violated the NDA that you signed

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      Couldn't they just have the pieces be locally thicker in the locations where there's going to be spot welds to account for the localized weaknesses?

    • So a bit like tempered or strain hardened aluminum. Weld it and *boom* all your strength gains are gone.

      Most people not familiar with Aluminum look at the numebers, and the corrosion resistance, and are thrilled. Then they weld up something they like and bring it to me to tell them that it's strong enough for whatever project they're working on. I've actually had people (almost) yelling at me that their 6061-T6 handrail was just fine. Until we broke one for them, right at the welded base. At 1/3 of the requ

    • How's the weldability compared to, say, DP600, or boron? Resistance welding in particular. We test "super materials" from time to time, and they're often challenging in mass production. One of the linked articles mentioned good weldability but presented no data, and of course if the material is highly dependent on the heat treating method, I'm curious what affect introducing welding heat has on the interface and the heat affected zone. Do we introduce weakness every time we weld? (Of course good body design

  • feeling in our wallets?

  • Earlier reports came out in 2011
    http://www.gizmag.com/stronger... [gizmag.com]

    Claims less energy inputs, less expensive equipment to make and shape and stronger results.
    If the money savings and benefits are there I would have expected it to have been scooped up and monetized by now. Unless there are real IP issues preventing it from getting accepted.

  • Material science is definitely not my area but the only articles I can find on this revolutionary process are in GizMag.

    There is a patent application from 2008:

    But then there is a .mil evaluation:

  • Planned Obsolescence (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Irate Engineer ( 2814313 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @07:28PM (#51111355)

    Before the days of unibody construction, usually the lifespan of a car was dictated by how long it took for the frame to rot, up here in New England anyway. I had a series of Subarus through the 1980s and 1990s that had perfectly running powertrains, but I had to retire them when the frames rotted away. If I got 150k miles out of them I was lucky.

    Now I've had a few cars (an Impreza and a Honda Civic) with unibody construction, and now they seem to be limited by powertrain. The Impreza made it to 250k miles before the rings went, followed by the transmission. The Civic is still rolling nicely and passing emissions inspections at 300k miles, though I did have to replace the head gasket last summer.

    I suspect the manufacturers are realizing that quality cars == low turnover == infrequent return customers. They'd love to make the automotive equivalent of a "One Hoss-Shay" that self-destructs after 100k miles as you drive past the dealership.

    • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @08:42PM (#51111599)

      I suspect the manufacturers are realizing that quality cars == low turnover == infrequent return customers. They'd love to make the automotive equivalent of a "One Hoss-Shay" that self-destructs after 100k miles as you drive past the dealership.

      You're basically describing European cars. Planned Obselecence is a big thing over there. They want to make sure things last just long enough to ride out the warranty period. Obviously not vital components like the drive train (well at least not intentionally) but things like sound proofing, electric seats and mirrors, heaters and other things that will annoy you when they break.

      Japanese manufacturers dont have to worry about that as they get obsolescence built into the law in Japan (Shaken law). In this regard, they want their cars to be highly reliable as they want them to get a good resale price when exported out of Japan after 3- 5 years.

      Plus Japanese businesses think for the long term. They know that a reputation for reliability is a huge advantage when it comes to new car sales.

      • "You're basically describing European cars. Planned Obselecence is a big thing over there. They want to make sure things last just long enough to ride out the warranty period."

        I certainly don't know your mileage, but I don't know what you are talking about: ten years for a car and 100K miles with just basic maintenance is the rule, with a majority of cars going well beyond that. Mine, for instance, is 14 y.o., 110K miles and very good health.

        • by mjwx ( 966435 )
          My first car was a 97 Honda Civic VTI, I bought it with 270,000 KM on the clock, sold it with 297,000. Current car is a 2001 Nissan 200sx (S15, yep the car so Awesome that America will not allow it's import) that's just ticked over 110,000 and as long as it's looked after, has at least another 200,000 left in it. I've seen several Toyota Hiluxes with over 500,000 on the clock and still going.

          Japanese cars will keep going for ages, especially Toyotas, on very basic maintenance. European cars, not so much.
          • "European cars, not so much. Its rare to find an Astra with 150,000 K's on it, a lot of VW Golfs on their second tranny before 50,000 KM."

            Now, I know you are trolling.

    • Before the days of unibody construction, usually the lifespan of a car was dictated by how long it took for the frame to rot, up here in New England anyway. I had a series of Subarus through the 1980s and 1990s that had perfectly running powertrains

      Um, those 1980s and 1990s Subarus all had unibody construction. The only 'cars' that didn't by then were American SUVs, which were built on truck chassis to skirt gas guzzling taxes.

  • Maybe not going to happen in the land of lawyers for quite awhile, but it would be great if some company in the world could start using and testing in real cars.
  • I have owned cars made with large amounts of aluminum. Aluminum cars are very expensive to repair after accidents. I wonder how this metal will compare with Aluminum. If I could have a lightweight, inexpensive to repair car it would be great: less expensive to drive and to insure. This technology won't displace carbon fiber in Lamborghinis, but how about Aluminum in Audis, Fords and Teslas? How about Boeing and AirBus? Could this replace a lot of aluminum?

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