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Metal Casting Technologies : March 2009
Given these major moves to new technology vehicles, how is this likely to effect the component manufacturing support industries which have already felt the effects of the current market downturn and the many production rationalisations underway? It is clear that the international vehicle industry is now changing faster than in its entire history – each day sees new announcements for vehicles in each technology category. Common challenges to the vehicle parts manufacturers relate to new stronger, lighter materials, new manufacturing processes to produce the continually changing vehicle parts arising from the development of new vehicles and the manufacturing cost reductions which are mandatory for manufacturers to remain competitive. Further challenges relate to the establishment, maintenance and auditing of the quality of manufactured parts. A question which is continually in the mind of vehicle parts manufacturers is what parts remain and which will become obsolescent. This is particularly relevant in the case of the fully electric vehicle where the conventional engine, petrol or diesel is replaced by an electric motor which does not require the gear train common to every vehicle to date. As electric vehicle numbers increase to replace conventional engine vehicles, so the market for the many mechanical components of the internal combustion engines and their gear trains will progressively reduce. In the meantime, while the automotive industry has done a lot to make cars lighter and more economical, dwindling resources and the growing climate problem urgently call for further drastic improvements. Not only crude oil but also metals such as copper are becoming scarce and therefore more and more expensive every day. What is more, the demand for raw materials in countries such as China, India and Russia is steadily growing. It is clear that the continued viability of the automotive industry will rely on managing with fewer raw materials and a continually reducing environmental impact. Aside from being eco-friendly and pollution free, future vehicles should rarely need servicing. Given that the combustion engine will continue to dominate in the foreseeable future, there is considerable work underway to substantially improve its performance. Nissan is aiming to launch a gasoline-fuelled “three litre car” that runs 100km on three litres of fuel (78 mpg US). Researchers of seven Fraunhofer Institutes have taken the power train as a starting point in the development of improved vehicles. The power train comprises all the components involved in generating torque and transferring it from the engine to the wheel. It significantly determines a car’s performance and environmental impact. Scientists are focusing on new components for this type of engine, with plans to further develop the low-energy motor, the lightweight gear unit and the lightweight Cardan driveshaft. The objective with all three components is to reduce their weight by using various lightweight materials, to cut the amount of material and energy required by means of net-shape techniques, and to ensure smooth operation of the components with the help of low-friction coatings and surface structuring. In summary, developments are proceeding on many fronts and component suppliers will have become expert in using the new materials as they emerge, in rapid tooling and low cost manufacturing responses to new designs, while progressively improving quality standards. Ralph Tobias F.I.Aust. F.R.S.A. Adjunct Professor Editorial Board Metal Casting Technologies Magazine firstname.lastname@example.org METAL Casting Technologies March 2009 19