Cutting-Edge Knowledge

Cutting-Edge Knowledge

With over 10 years’ experience leading and participating in pre-competitive R&D projects, our light metals knowledge is cutting-edge

We’ve been involved in over 20 collaborative R&D project consortia, funded by the UK Government’s Innovate UK, over the last 10 years. Most of these projects have had either an automotive focus or have been to do with the exploitation of the unique properties of anodic films.

cutting-edge knowledge in automotive materials

The latest technical know-how

Our work on Innovate UK-funded projects (and also on European-funded projects through FP7 and Horizon 2020) has strengthened our interactions with both the UK Science base and the OEMs. Because of this, and because of the research work itself, you can be confident that our technical knowledge is as up to date as it can be.

Helping you set-up and manage R&D projects

Drawing on our considerable experience in establishing and leading collaborative research projects, we can help you do the same. We can offer our assistance in proposal and consortium development, and with project management.

Completed Innovate UK-funded projects we’ve been involved with:

Project (click on name for abstract) Web Link
HEATAL

The 5 partners in this project are Heat Trace Ltd, University of Manchester, Innoval Technology, 3M UK and Watlow Ltd. This project has been very successful and showed that: 1) Aluminium can replace copper in existing electrical heating products and significantly reduce costs (these products will be more competitive in existing and new markets); 2) The use of aluminium has enabled two novel product designs which are major innovative steps in electrical heating technology – the first is a flexible laminated heater which can be customised to fit around any shape of object to be heated and the second is an integrated heated pipe which will radically change conventional pipe trace heating, giving major savings in the costs of the product, installation and operational energy. Heat Trace has installed a continuous aluminium extruder line for the development and production of these novel aluminium based products. There is a wide range of markets applications including industrial (oil and chemical industries, power stations, rail, automotive, aerospace); commercial (hospitals, schools, offices) and residential (under-floor heating, frost protection and heated hot water pipes).

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BONDCAR

To enable companies to successfully compete today and in the future, they need to develop the next generation of light weight environmentally friendly and sustainable transportation systems. As these products are subjected to demanding and repeated loadings, it is necessary to be able to predict the durability performance of the joints in the vehicle. The Bonded Car project has developed commercially available software simulation tools to predict the operating life of five joining technologies: – Structural Adhesive, Self-Pierce Rivets, Aluminium Spot Welds, Weld-Bonded and Riv-Bonded. This will enable the type of joint, location and number of joints required to be determined, to meet the durability operating performance of the structure, while reducing both cost and weight.

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PhysVis

A method of modelling fabric properties and behavior, first generating a yarn model from fiber parameters, which may be empirically determined. The yarn model is homogenised to produce a homogenous representation of the yarn, suitable for use in finite element analysis. The method may then, secondly, involve generating a fabric weave model by finite element analysis of the yarn representation. The fabric model is then also homogenised to produce a homogeneous representation of the fabric, suitable for use in finite element analysis. Finite element analysis of the fabric representation can then be used to assess the suitability of various fabric materials for technical applications.

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WAFT

Jaguar Land Rover is now one of the global leaders in the manufacturer of complete aluminium automotive body structures. Whilst delivering significant enhancement to final product performance this strategy does have huge implication in terms of manufacturing investment, with up to £200M spent with every vehicle programme on press tools & BIW (body-in-white) facilities. A proportion of this cost is due simply to the selection of aluminium rather than steel and its reduced formability driving simpler more numerous parts, with more sub-assembly to create the required levels of complexity. This project will industrialise the innovative warm forming concept, in essence marrying the commercially existing worlds of super plastic forming for niche production with the conventional cold processing technique used in volume production today. It will provide a manufacturing process specifically optimised for Premium vehicle production, the aim being to achieve steel formability with aluminium and hence steel investment levels with savings of up to £20M per vehicle programme. In press tooling terms we envisage a 40% reduction in the capital & revenue costs associated with the consolidation of 30 key structural components through the application of this technology. Such a reduction in part count, tooling & facilities, will in addition, contribute towards JLR’s improved Carbon Footprint, as they look to further ‘green’ their manufacturing processes and in doing so achieve the target of a 25% reduction in Manufacturing Carbon Footprint by 2015.

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HEATRAIL

This project will develop, for snow melting and ice prevention of rail switch points, an electric heating system which will require less energy than conventional switch point heaters. This new heating system will be have 4 elements: a self- regulating semi-conductive polymeric heater, an advanced intelligent control system, a thermal insulation system and a dual power supply (mains or solar). Concept testing and thermal heat transfer calculations indicate energy savings of 75% and a 30 to 50% reduction in product life cycle costs. In addition, the new heating system cannot burnout and hence is safer than current technology. This would give Network Rail potential energy cost savings of £9.9 million per year and a carbon footprint reduction of 52,000 tonnes of CO2e per year. This technology could be utilised in other rail heating applications such as heating of the third rail, overhead cables, bridges, tunnels, platforms and under-floor heating.

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POLY

This short-term feasibility study was motivated by prevention of product counterfeiting in heat trace products. In addition, there was the potential to achieve a competitive technological advantage and commercial lead through employing a novel polymer processing technology. Using the novel technology, a range of polymer materials – virgin and recycled (with and without taggant material, and with different additive loadings) were processed to produce sample materials for assessment of conductivity, thermal properties and microstructures. The outputs were compared to more conventionally processed materials to determine what benefits could be achieved. The project clearly demonstrated the capability of a novel process to distribute a taggant more evenly throughout polymer matrices: scale-up will be assessed and, if successful, will result in effective anti-counterfeiting measures. The reduced additive levels, however, did not achieve the hoped-for product conductivities.

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REALCAR

This is a project led by JLR to explore ways to increase the use of recycled aluminum in automobile manufacturing. The overall goal of the project is to develop technologies and processes that will enable lightweight automotive body structures to be built using aluminum sheet derived from lower-cost, energy-efficient, recycled sources, in line with JLR’s Environmental Innovation (EI) strategy to reduce the CO2 footprint of manufacturing premium cars. REALCAR is targeting 75% recycled content for automotive aluminum sheet, including about 50% from manufacturing scrap and 25% from various post-consumer sources. REALCAR addresses the sourcing of aluminum scrap by exploring infrastructure and recycling approaches at the manufacturing facilities of JLR and its Tier 1 suppliers. The project aims to drive progress towards a streamlined logistics/supply chain to facilitate closed-loop returns of aluminum scrap, which not only reduces the carbon footprint of the material but also provides a low-cost source. The project has also investigated potential scrap sources from non-automotive sources and end-of-life vehicle waste; this investigation has identified a number of future opportunities. REALCAR evaluated over 20 different sheet chemistries and processes, and developed two compositions based on commercially available aluminum scrap sources, with a view to replacing the sheet grade that accounts for the majority of aluminum structural sheet used in JLR body construction in the next generation of JLR products.

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DCRC

A major UK requirement for novel lightweight materials for applications in extreme and hostile environments has been identified. DCRC provides the process route to high performance aluminium products of compositions that can”t be made by conventional casting technologies. The process is applicable to aluminium slab and billet production and provides increased productivity with reduced downstream processing and lower costs. This proposal is focussed on process development and providing products for specific challenging materials applications requiring combinations of extreme strength and ductility, temperature stability, wear resistance and corrosion performance. This project is critical for process development and industrial adoption of these novel products. The industrially driven consortium has the materials, modelling, and engineering skills and experience for commercialising world-beating DCRC products within a few years.

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RDC

Brunel University has developed a novel approach to rheo-casting, which produces cast alloys with exceptional mechanical properties and without segregation and porosity. They achieve this by conditioning the melt before casting using a high shear slurry maker. The conditioning method has been applied successfully to high-pressure die castings advances based on the use of the slurry maker that have the potential to make a step change in both the cost and performance of light metals in transportation applications. The project seeks to industrialise the Brunel idea to produce high performance, lightweight magnesium and aluminium automotive castings.

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ULARS

Unlike other materials for engineering applications, metals, such as aluminium and magnesium, can be recycled repeatedly without loss of their inherent properties. Recycling metals is not only economically viable, but also extremely beneficial for conservation of limited natural resources, reduction of energy consumption and waste generation, all contributing positively to a sustainable economy. One of the main barriers to the increased use of recycled light alloy scrap (both process scrap (new) and post consumer scrap (old)) is the existence of excessive levels of inclusions and impurity elements, which usually leads to downgrading into materials with poorer mechanical properties and reduced corrosion resistance. The prime objective of the proposed project is to break down this barrier and prevent market failure through the application of the step-change rheoforming technologies to allow the re-use of aluminium and magnesium alloy scrap in high-level automotive and other value added applications. The technical approach is to convert melts of recycled light alloy scrap into a semi-solid slurry using a twin screw slurry maker (TSSM) combined with a slurry accumulator and to feed this into a rheodiecaster for near net shape components, or a rheoextruder for continuous extruded profiles. Owing to the intensive forced convection in the TSSM, both inclusions and impurity elements (usually as intermetallic compounds in the solidified microstructure) will be divided into extremely fine particles and dispersed uniformly throughout the entire casting, eliminating/reducing the detrimental effects to ductility and corrosion resistance. This will result in extensive materials re-use, producing castings and extruded sections of aluminium and magnesium alloys made from selected combinations of post consumer scrap. The mechanical performance and corrosion properties of the rheoformed products will be assessed against current production aluminium and magnesium castings and wrought products made from conventional primary metal based melts. For magnesium the emphasis of the project will be on production of rheodiecastings with a much smaller activity on wrought products, whilst for aluminium the emphasis will be both on high performance castings and on wrought products, particularly rheoextrusions. The project will include design, commissioning and optimisation of a rheoextruder and integration of the rheoextruder with the slurry supply system; characterisation of the chemical compositions, microstructures, mechanical properties and corrosion resistance of rheoformed products produced from different scrap sources; the results feeding into the process optimisation programme as guidelines and being used to understand the relationships between chemical composition, processing conditions and engineering performance. The project will develop a unique UK partnership of material producers, recyclers, technology providers and product manufacturers to develop a novel processing route for increasing the re-use and recycled content of light alloy materials by upcycling into higher-value products. Such a collaborative development will enable rapid UK commercial exploitation and will reduce dependency on imported products.

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RULMAP

An abstract is not currently available for this research.

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PLANET

The goal of the PLANET project was to deliver a novel process for manufacture of lightweight hybrid automotive body panels with a significant weight reduction compared to conventional monolithic metal panels. This was achieved by forming metal sheets by the injection of molten plastic in a conventional injection moulding machine in a similar way to hydroforming. This plastic both bonded to the metal bond and formed features on the metal. The hybrid combination of metal and polymer enabled a reduction in metal thickness with additional benefits including a minimisation of springback, reduced tooling costs, increased part complexity, part consolidation and improved impact/safety properties. In addition the polymer backing of the metal provided a corrosion protection of the metal. The technology requires only minor modification to existing injection moulding technology. The project evaluated the design and production of automotive panel systems to establish the most efficient and practical composite. The intention was to establish OEM confidence to apply the new material combination for future low carbon vehicles.

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Novel Grain Refiner

Al-Si casting alloys have a wide range of applications in the automotive sector. These alloys contain high levels of silicon, which causes large grain sizes. Refining the grain size is crucial to achieve the superior performance castings. Grain refiners used for non-cast aluminium alloys are ineffective in cast aluminium due to the silicon levels. Brunel University’s new grain refiner (BGR) provides a much needed solution to this problem. The BGR has the potential to transform practices in the Al-Si casting industry by enabling innovative, cheaper, and simpler casting to produce high performance cast structures. Delivering benefits to a wide range of casting techniques, it should enable castings with superior properties, thereby, allowing aluminium to replace some steel components in the automotive sector. The project aims at applying grain refiner to produce high performance Al-Si alloys cast components for automotive applications.

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REPLICAL

The aim of the REPLICAL project is to develop a new roll to roll production process route using aluminium rollers for continuously manufacturing polymer film with similar anti-reflective properties to those of a moth-eye. Proof-of-concept for the nanoreplication process has been demonstrated. We intend to scale-up roller manufacture to a commercial scale and to demonstrate the manufacture of a range of moth-eye film products for the display and touch-screen markets. Roller manufacture requires special aluminium sheet as starting material and innovative surface finishing to produce rollers with the surface for direct polymer replication for anti-reflective properties. The innovative roll-to-roll nanoreplication process will lead to a step-change in UK competitiveness through a novel manufacturing route for a wide range of biomimetic functional polymer films.

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RASCAL

Structural aluminium alloy castings are an essential part of future Low Carbon Vehicle (LCV) body structures. They are presently made from primary aluminium using alloy compositions that are not sufficiently ductile or compatible with the closed loop recycling of end of life vehicles. Research at Brunel University has demonstrated that a novel alloy composition can meet the Jaguar Land Rover requirements for structural castings in terms of mechanical properties, joinability using self-piercing rivets, and a recycled content of 75% including both process and post consumer scrap. The 24 month project will enable high pressure diecastings for structural BIW (Body in White) applications of the new alloy to be developed at Brunel University and demonstrated on an industrial scale as a function of recycled scrap level. The goal is both a fully UK-based supply chain and significant CO2 savings in vehicle production and use.

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REALCAR2

REALCAR 2 enables lightweight automotive body structures to be built using aluminium sheet derived from lower cost, energy efficient, recycled post consumer sources. The project makes innovative use of waste collection techniques and material production to produce a new to market high recycled and high impurity content 5xxx series sheet alloy, supporting a low manufacturing CO2 footprint and providing significant value to the supply chain and end user. The project will exploit growing volumes of post consumer aluminium waste from Mechanical Biological Treatment plants, driving the associated recycling infrastructure. The new 5xxx series aluminium alloy chemistry will be produced as full sized production coils; this requires evaluation of the rolling/production phase to produce sheet for full characterisation. REALCAR 2 is intended to deliver key environmental and commercial benefits for the next generation of Jaguar Land Rover vehicles.

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ULCAB

The aim of this project is for a consortium of industry leaders, Lotus Cars, Innoval, PAB Coventry, Impression Technology and Imperial College to develop an enabling technology for significant reduction in carbon emissions from automobiles and therefore help preserve a healthy world environment through pollution reduction. There are two major ways this can be achieved; through making engines and power trains more efficient and therefore transforming a greater proportion of fuel into motive power and by reducing the weight of cars and thus reducing the amount of fuel necessary in normal driving situations. This project is focusing on the second option around body structures as these account for about 30% of overall car weight. The aim is to establish a proven manufacturing route for the manufacture of one-piece aluminium alloy sheet metal components that will be a cost-effective substitute for current steel parts. Several manufacturers are already using aluminium alloy parts in their car bodies, but these cannot substitute directly for steel and are usually made of several relatively simple shapes attached to each other, which makes them expensive and does not achieve the weight reduction inherent with aluminium . Two techniques will be cominbed in one process; tailor-welded blanks and HFQ (a newly patened hot forming process for enhancing the formability of aluminium alloy) This combination of two novel forming techniques new to aluminium alloy manufacture will enable sophisticated one-piece parts to be made, which are ecomomically viable,eventually for all classes of car and achieve the ulitmate in weight saving of 50 to 60%, compared with steel designs.

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Active Innovate UK-funded projects we’re involved with now:

Project Web Link
LEAAST

Lightweight crash management systems are of increasing importance for most forms of ground transport. Automotive OEMs like JLR have advanced aluminium automotive body designs but still depend on steel for bumper beams. For rail applications steel based crash systems predominate. Constellium has developed considerably stronger extrusion alloys based on the AA6xxx alloy system that are fully recycling compatible with the sheet used for automotive structures and body panels. Brunel University has developed alloys and casting technologies that enable extrusions and castings to be combined in novel ways to produce a new generation of compact lightweight crash management systems. The envisaged work programme will include a high strength alloy being combined with casting alloys using overcasting techniques and the use of bonded and riveted joints to demonstrate the potential for both increased crash resistance and weight saving. The project will demonstrate and evaluate optimised designs for crash management systems for both automotive and rail transport.

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CAAHS

Gordon Murray Design’s innovative and ground breaking iStream automotive manufacturing technology allows significant reductions in setup, production costs, vehicle mass, and lifecycle CO2 emissions, whilst offering cost effective design flexibility that exceeds current Euro NCAP occupant and pedestrian impact regulations. The project consortium of Gordon Murray Design, Innoval Technology Limited, Constellium and Brunel University (BCAST) aim to develop an iStream monocoque that is 30 – 40% lighter than the incumbent steel/glass fibre composite structure. Using a novel high strength extrusion alloy combined with advanced composite panels based on recycled carbon fibre, the project aims to further reduce CO2 emissions through significant lightweighting, whilst maintaining the high volume, low cost benefits of the original disruptive iStream technology. The project also aims to take another major step, making full use of the iStream process, towards a new generation of lightweight vehicles for the UK market that can have a major impact on the UK Government’s carbon reduction targets for the UK vehicle fleet.

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European-funded projects:

Project Web Link
INCAS

The project concept is to combine nanoreactor technology with multisite solid catalyst design to achieve a safer, cleaner and intensified chemical production. The project ideas are the following: (i) From micro- to nano-reactors. Actual microreactor have channels of micrometric size. We will develop a new concept based on the use of nanometric size channels. (ii) Vectorial pathway for multisite catalytic reactions. A limit in cascade (or domino) reactions is that there is no possibility to control the sequence of reactions of transformation of a reactant in a multisite catalyst. The concept of vectorial pathway for multisite catalytic reactions is based on the idea of an ordered sequence of catalytic sites along the axial direction of the channels of a membrane, in order to control the sequence of transformation. (iii) Dynamic nanoreactor. The concept of dynamic nanoreactor is based on the transient generation of toxic reactants inside the nanoreactor and the immediate conversion, in order to eliminate the storage of these reactants (which is minimized, but not eliminated in on-site or on-demand approaches). The project concept is that the implementation of innovative and safer pathways for sustainable chemical production requires making a step forward in the development of catalyst-reactor design along the lines indicated above. The project applies above ideas to three reactions of synthesis of large-volume chemicals which are relevant example of innovative pathways for sustainable chemical production: (1) direct synthesis of H2O2, (2) PO synthesis with in-situ generated H2O2 and (3) solvent-free synthesis of DPC with in-situ transient generation of phosgene. The consortium has a clear industrial leadership, with sixth major companies and two SMEs, and four academic partners.

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RECYCAL

The RecycAl project aims to address the problem of build-up of intermetallic forming Fe, Sn and Mn impurities in recycled Al alloys through development and demonstration of a High Shear Processing (HSP) technique which could allow low grade scrap to be converted to high grade alloy material, hence increasing the use of Al scrap in the EU. The RecycAl technology will be based on a physical melt conditioning process that can be applied to liquid metal. This concept, High Shear Processing (HSP), involves extremely rapid (>10,000 s-1) shearing of the molten metal in novel machine designs based on the concept of a rotor-stator mixer. There are no issues with these rotation speeds in an industrial scale device. The liquid metal has similar viscosity as water and provides very low resistance to the rotor even at high speed.

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