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Optimizing Designs of Aluminum Suspension Components Using An Integrated Approach
Many vehicle chassis and suspension components are constructed of aluminum alloys, due to the metals relatively high strength-to-weight ratio and inherent corrosion resistance. A high percentage of these components’ were converted from other materials. This has resulted in design geometries developed for materials and product forms that do not take advantage of aluminum’s best attributes. In an effort to create the most efficient designs, Alcoa has developed an integrated approach to design of suspension components, combining precise process refinement, development of strength-optimized alloys, and intelligent use of advanced structural optimization tools.
based on aluminum behavior and performance to capture the full benefit of using the light metal. Alcoa has developed an integrated aluminum chassis and suspension components design process that takes full advantage of aluminum’s properties and characteristics while producing a higher-performance component.
VEHICLE WEIGHT TRENDS
As size increases and more safety, performance and luxury features are added to vehicles, they continue to increase in weight. Since 1990, the weight of a typical family vehicle has steadily risen from 3140.5 pounds to 3357.5 pounds.1 A specific example of the increasing weight trend is the VW GTI. The original version of the GTI, introduced in 1976, weighed 1804 pounds, while the latest version weighs 2939 pounds. This increase represents a weight gain of approximately 40% over the 18-year life of the GTI.2 Figure one (below) is an excellent example of the weight gain trend with today’s vehicles. The original VW Golf is a substantially larger vehicle than the current Smart sub-compact, yet the Smart weighs slightly more than the Golf.
Since 1990, there has been a steady increase in the weight of typical family vehicles due to additional safety, luxury and performance features demanded by the driving public. This incremental weight increase has created a significant weight problem and challenged automakers ability to comply with fuel efficiency standards. There is also a potential for increasingly stringent carbon monoxide emissions regulations where weight once again constrains automakers ability to comply with any future legislation. The ability to reverse the weight spiral will be on the critical path for OEMs as they strive to comply with current and future fuel efficiency standards and emissions legislation. One of the most predominate tools to fight the weight spiral has been the application of aluminum automotive components and systems. The increasing amount of consumer-driven features on family vehicles has produced a simultaneous increase in the aluminum content of these vehicles to offset weight increases. The use of aluminum in a vehicle’s chassis and suspension system has also proven to improve ride quality and handling, as well. Automotive aluminum chassis and suspension applications are expected to grow until 2013. One of the challenges that OEMs and the aluminum industry faces is to develop engineering standards and assumptions
Figure One: Vehicle weights are increasing Simultaneous to the weight increase trend, there has also been an increase use of aluminum castings, which
aluminum folds like an accordion. Un-sprung weight is composed of all of the components that are not supported by the suspension system (e. so this is not the best option for a great majority of vehicle platforms.e. Since 1990. More specifically. Increased suspension travel also increases the roll center height of the vehicle and reduces its stability at speed. knuckles. It is estimated that lightweight castings have increased the CAFÉ fuel efficiency by 5% over the last ten years. cargo. Aluminum absorbs nearly twice as much energy as steel. Sprung weight is defined to be everything in and on a vehicle that is supported by the suspension system (e. cars. every pound of aluminum that replaces two pounds of steel can save 20 pounds of CO2 from being emitted. Today. frame. More than 75% of these 260 pounds are castings. 6 This growth is based on aluminum’s ability to improve fuel efficiency and emissions performance while allowing OEMs to meet consumer demands for well-equipped and good-handling vehicles. It should also be noted that it is not practical to design a suspension that never reaches its travel limits since the best suspension designs target one “bottoming” in 1000 suspension hits. TP PT Aluminum is the third most-used material in vehicles. wheels. The Argonne National Laboratory also studied vehicle light weighting and reported a fuel savings of 6.6 percent for every 10 percent reduction in weight. occupants. or as much as 2. creates less force as the suspension travels. . (Jounce & Re-bound). BMW studied vehicle weight reduction through the use of aluminum and reported fuel savings of between five and ten percent for each 10 percent reduction in weight. A 6 to 8% fuel savings can be realized for every 10% reduction in weight from substituting aluminum for steel. a designer could simply increase the suspension travel so that it never reaches its limits (creating impact forces).1% per year through 2013. theoretically. SUV’s and light trucks) has increased in its aluminum casting content from 92. If this is the case. minivans.5 extra miles per gallon. brakes.). U U U U MARKET GROWTH PROJECTIONS FOR ALUMINUM The application of aluminum castings in North American passenger cars and trucks is expected to continue to grow at an annual rate of 2.g. etc. letting the vehicle . Aluminum castings have been critical to automakers meeting or exceeding federally mandated CAFÉ standards.has partially offset further weight increases. Using aluminum to cut a vehicle's weight by 10% can boost its fuel economy up to 8%.3 TP PT FUEL REDUCTION POTENTIAL ON REDUCED WEIGHT A vehicle that uses less fuel produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions. But realistically. etc. fluids. Over the average lifetime of a vehicle.). This translates into less impact force on the sprung weight when the suspension reaches its travel limits. behind only steel and iron. wheel bearings. and during a crash. tires. 7 TP PT Aluminum casting penetration into the suspension components business is expected to increase to 35% by 2006 and 50% by 2009. the average North American vehicle has about 260 pounds of aluminum content. power-train. The typical family vehicle (i. Lighter vehicles generally accelerate quicker and require shorter stopping distances than heavier vehicles. interior.5 TP PT Figure Two: Aluminum content has grown strongly IMPROVED RIDE AND HANDLING DUE TO REDUCED UN – SPRUNG WEIGHT The concept of sprung versus un-sprung weight needs to be understood in order to fully understand the benefits that aluminum chassis and suspension components can bring to the driver.g.not its passengers absorb more of the crash forces.3 pounds in 1978 to 240 pounds in 2002. increased travel reduces ride quality and handling performance for on-road vehicles. and use only heavy and less costly un-sprung weight components like iron and steel. 4 TP PT aluminum casting penetration is expected to reach the following levels in certain chassis and suspension components: 8 • Engine mount brackets: 30% • Steering knuckles: 40% • Control arms: 40% TP PT Figure two (below) graphically describes the historical increase in automotive aluminum content. Why is a reduction in un-sprung weight a benefit to the vehicle’s driver? Newton’s Second Law (Force = Mass x Acceleration) implies that less un-sprung weight moving with respect to the sprung weight. the use of aluminum has doubled in cars and has tripled in the lucrative light truck market. by 2008. body.
and minimizes oxide generation during the metal transfer process. the new rear axle assembly's greater stiffness improved vehicle handling over their existing steel-based axle assembly. As a general “rule of thumb”. Lightweight suspension components also reduce the gyroscopic phenomena induced into the front steering and suspension system. Alcoa upgraded a proprietary casting process called Vacuum Riserless / Pressure Riserless Casting (VRC/PRC) and adapted it to the needs of the automotive chassis and suspension components market. This torque is additive to the normal weight of the vehicle and high gyroscopic forces mean that the vehicle will ride and handle poorer than it should. A variable rate vacuum system is connected to the mold and pulls all gases out of the mold cavities to assure a tranquil fill and no oxide entrainment during the mold filling process.g. since control arms connect the sprung and un-sprung weights. In early 1995. bushings. The benefit of reducing control arm. In addition. trailing arms and suspension links). crossmembers. bearings. shocks. VRC was developed in 1950’s by the Alcoa Casting & Forging Research Lab and was commercialized in the 1960’s. net/gross metal yields as high as 95% can be achieved on some castings. minimizes oxide generation in the crucible furnace. Vibration and Harshness) in the entire vehicle. to have superior handling and minimal noise. the greater stiffness had to be achieved by improved geometry of the cast aluminum design. isolators. VRC/PRC is a modified low-pressure. It should also be noted that. harshness and vibration (NHV) characteristics. Figure three illustrates Audi’s reasons for light weighting their premium vehicles. etc. The smaller impact forces due to reduced un-sprung weight also result in reduced NVH (Noise. The lower platen rests on the crucible furnace and metal is transported from the crucible furnace to the mold cavity via fill tubes. According to their tests.wheel hop frequencies). they found that the axle transmits less road and tire noise to the passenger compartment due to the density of aluminum. steering action) are combined. 50% of their mass is considered sprung. The VRC/PRC casting machine consists of a vertical hydraulic press with a steel mold (upper and lower halves) that is bolted on to the machine’s lower platen. After the mold cavities are filled. Volvo wanted its first highperformance sports sedan. in order to satisfy the desired natural frequencies for the sprung weight (1 to 2 Hz) and un-sprung weight (10 to 12 Hz . The surface of the molten metal bath is within four inches of the mold’s bottom and this short distance minimizes the back surging of molten metal into the crucible furnace. and into the mold cavities. control arms. Pressure is then applied onto the molten metal surface and forces metal. spinning wheel) and turning motion (e.e. No riser is required since the crucible furnace’s molten metal bath feeds the solidification shrinkage. through the fill tubes. and in-turn.g.What about the components that connect the sprung and un-sprung weight? (i. The process features a continuous metal delivery to the crucible furnace.). trailing arm and suspension link weight is equal to half that of a steering knuckle or wheel. The reduced impact force realized by employing lightweight suspension components also manifests itself in a longer life cycle for everything that is absorbing this force (e. Figure Three: Audi places a value on light weighting ALCOA EXPERIENCE WITH ALUMINUM CHASSIS & SUSPENSION CONPONENTS In 1994. sub-frames. The Volvo engineers chose to create an all-aluminum rear axle assembly made from castings and extrusions. links. Each of the leading automakers are either investigating or actively increasing the aluminum content in their chassis and suspension systems. Alcoa leveraged its experience with highintegrity aluminum castings from the aerospace business to quickly enter the aluminum chassis and suspension components market.g. 9 It should be noted that. the pressure is maintained to feed solidification . via a patented metal pumping system. since the modulus of aluminum is lower than that of steel. Gyroscopic phenomenon is a torque that is induced when rotating (e. springs. Since the process does not require extensive gating and risers. struts. the 1999 S80. PRC was added to VRC in 1985 and the combined process is called VRC/PRC. Volvo Car Corporation is an example of why designers and engineers opt for aluminum in their chassis and suspension systems. Less un-sprung weight reduces this torque action and also improves ride and handling. permanent mold casting process which uses vacuum and pressure to “bottom fill” a steel mold from a molten aluminum bath. the un-sprung weight must be low relative to the sprung weight.
progressive and “top-down” directional solidification to yield a nearly porosity free casting and low cycle time. wheel carriers. Large Cross Members Product: Front Cross-Member Application: Luxury Sports Coupe Product: Front Cross-Member Application: Luxury Sports Coupe Figure Six . Figure four (below) illustrates the gas extraction. engine brackets and pump housings. The cells are designed to follow the proven principles of the Toyota Production System and require minimal labor content from molten metal to x-ray inspected casting. (See figure five below). Product: Rear Knuckle Application: Full size Luxury SUV Control Arms Product: Front Lower Control Arm Application: Midsize Luxury SUV Product: Hollow Lower Control Arm Application: Full Size Luxury SUV Figure Five: VRC/PRC production cells The VRC/PRC process has been in use by Alcoa. sub-frames. mold filling and solidification shrinkage feeding portions of the VRC/PRC process. control arms.shrinkage and assure a dense casting structure. Multiple water-cooling circuits provide rapid. for more than nine years to produce 40M automotive crossmembers. steering knuckles. See figure six (below) for a sampling of typical products manufactured with VRC/PRC. Front Knuckles Product: Front Steering Knuckle Application: Luxury Sports Sedan Product: Front Knuckle Application: Full size light duty truck Rear Knuckles / Wheel Carriers Product: Rear Wheel Carrier Application: Full Size Luxury SUV Figure Four: VRC/PRC Schematic Alcoa has used the VRC/PRC casting technology to design and build “single piece flow” automated casting and finishing cells.
Sample size = 1638 test bars (1/1/03 – 9/24/04) 1 2 3 Note: Sample size = 20 test bars 5 4 UTS (MPa) Mean Std. yield strength and elongation.0 YTS (MPa) 251 8. Several rounds of laboratory scale testing were conducted to determine each alloy family’s fluidity. Squeeze casting is well know in the aluminum casting industry and is considered a “premium” casting process. BHN 95. this process compares favorably to Squeeze Casting as measured by mechanical properties. The same alloy characteristics were studied via casting the alloy candidates into the shape of a steering knuckle.The VRC/PRC process has been continually upgraded and refined over the last nine years and has demonstrated a high stability level as measured by product mechanical properties. Alcoa leveraged resources through its Technical Center and Automotive Castings business to complete a study of potential alloy family candidates. Notes: a.4 3. This laboratory scale testing allowed for further down-selection and determination of alloy candidates for casting into a steering knuckle mold.15 Figure Seven: Today’s VRC/PRC rivals squeeze cast properties THE INTEGRATED APPROACH TO OPTIMIZED STRUCTURAL CASTING DESIGN To meet market needs and best utilize the benefits of the VRC/PRC casting process as noted above. Due to nine years of VRC/PRC continuous improvement efforts. The multi-disciplined team developed a series of in-plant casting trials using Design of Experiment methods to determine critical interactions between the various process parameters. This “menu of standard properties” allows an engineer seeking an optimum design quick flexibility in making these tradeoffs. particularly (1) . metallurgy and quality assurance people completed a project where all process parameters were studied for their effect on product tensile strength. for example reduce cost of heat treatment if high strength is not a requirement. Spec.0 10. and (3) part geometry to deliver the best possible part at a competitive cost to the customer. Optimizing the chemistry of an alloy was the next step in optimizing structural casting design – and a new alloy was needed to be created. b. While optimizing manufacturing processes multiple heat treatments allowed good flexibility using a standard aluminum alloy (A356). The different heat treatments allow part designers to. A356-T5. The process began with a comprehensive review of all major alloy families and comparison of their attributes. This allows part designers to choose the best heat treatment for the application. F356-F (an as-cast alloy). Brinell test specification: ASTM E10 d. With the intention of developing a higher strength casting alloy for use in automotive chassis and suspension components. Additionally. Dev. (2) alloy. The attributes of each were compared to the critical characteristics for chassis and suspension applications and this served as a down-selection process to begin laboratory scale testing. strength and elongation.7 Elongation (%) 11.8 86 min. Elong (%) 11. viscosity. Alcoa process engineering. feeding characteristics. YS (Mpa) 239 9. Alcoa’s approach is to optimize multiple facets of a design. 4 tensile bar locations rotated weekly. cracking propensity. yield strength and elongation. corrosion characteristics. 4 UTS (Mpa) Mean Stan. 317 8.9 276 min. Dev. 2 3 1 manufacturing processes that affect structural properties. A disciplined approach was applied to optimizing each facet. Cust. Several trials and confirmation runs were completed and the conclusions were implemented to further stabilize the casting process and make incremental improvement in tensile strength. See figure seven (below) for a numerical example. or tradeoff strength for elongation if needed. Tensile test specification: ASTM B557 c. Alcoa used the same experiments to standardize optimum processes for multiple heat treatments using the same base alloy.0 N/A 8 min. Alcoa has developed an integrated approach to optimizing structural casting designs. Alcoa developed optimum standard minimums for A356-T6.1 207 min. Alcoa engineers desired further flexibility in alloy selection. 314 7. To optimize manufacturing process for delivering the best properties.
the designer revised it if it didn’t meet targets. people will use this tool to quickly create solutions. Example of results in a topology optimzation zone Example of a shape optimzation zone: shape function allows FE mesh to “morph” between red and blue lines Figure Nine: Examples optimization zones. In the recent past. however. a structural analyst built an FEA model of this design. optimization software has been introduced that guides designers to place material where it is needed to make a part sound. To generate target properties. shown here in different colors. A constraint was also included to meet a key stiffness target. and allow Alcoa to produce real solutions more quickly. This method often required several weeks to arrive at a part that met targets. These generated the curves shown in Figure 10. advanced CAE methods were used to find the “point of diminishing returns” for increasing strength for an aluminum steering knuckle. and 100% increase in target stress. with the difference in the two curves being different stiffness allowed for the key stiffness parameter. some zones were not allowed to change. a series of plant trial runs were conducted with a production design steering knuckle in a production VRC/PRC casting cell. The availability of having an advanced aluminum alloy is only part of the picture.5. First. Once the alloy constituent levels were finalized. combining zones of topology and shape optimization into one advanced model. driving toward a set of targets. All three facets were utilized to reduce the weight of this part.” A design proposal was generated by a product designer. as noted above. 25. The model was then allowed to iterate and generate a minimum mass for 0. This model could now be used in combination with Altair Hyperstudy® to automatically run and iterate.Once the final alloy family was selected. extensive mechanical. and the model was allowed to automatically revise the geometry with the goal of minimum mass for the target strength. using “morphing” technology now present in some advanced FEA pre-processing software morphed the mesh of each shape zone. fatigue. Several rounds of production intent trials have been completed and the new alloy capabilities prove to be substantially superior to the chassis and suspension components “work-horse” A356 alloy. Advanced CAE optimization methods were employed for two purposes: (1) to provide target material properties for the alloy development effort and (2) to optimize the geometry of a target part using the new alloy – in this case an aluminum steering knuckle currently produced in A356. which. and several iterations occurred. Alcoa combined several optimization techniques to create a model of the target knuckle with many optimization parameters. automotive components were often designed by a “trial and error. To do this. give some real-world guidance to the optimizer. of topology and shape Each topology optimization zone was set up to allow material to be removed using Altair Optistruct® codes. generating a new geometry on each iteration. using advanced CAE methods that combine the “thinking” of the trial and error method with the computational guidance that can be given by use of optimization codes. Alcoa has had to improve both of these methods. Finally. 12. . casting recipe process refinement and understanding alloy attributes in a production environment. 50. All 43 zones were combined into one advanced model. A target stress was set up for key loadcases to represent possible increase in yield and fatigue strength of the alloy development. allowing an optimal shape to be created. CASE STUDY – OPTIMIZATION OF AN ALUMINUM FRONT KNUCKLE DESIGN The integrated approach was first employed to optimize an aluminum steering knuckle. These trial runs provided for further observation of alloy behavior. The model was then used to create a series of tradeoff curves. Design in aluminum. Each shape optimization area was assigned a shape parameter. corrosion and non-destructive testing were completed. a basic CAE model was divided into multiple sub-models. Figure Eight: Zones of the advanced CAE optimization model Each sub-model was programmed to allow optimization in different ways – some topology and some shape as shown below. Often. due to packaging or interfaces. The method described here allows us to explore more of the possible design space. More recently. requires judicious use of material (to keep costs at expected levels) and great attention to structural optimization.
Mike Gwyn. manufacturing constraints were added. the advanced model was then used to generate an actual product design that could be prototyped using the new alloy with the new properties. Refinements of the optimization parameters were made in key areas. improves fuel efficiency and emissions performance while also improving ride and handling through reduced un-sprung mass. June 1215. the advanced optimization model was run with the target stress set at the new alloy strength. AFS/NADCA 108th Metalcasting Congress. Advanced Technology Institute. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The authors want to thank Dr. FL.0 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 increase up until 2013. 2004. Volkswagen Autogramm. reality yielded a design that was 15. The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of Dr. but the market data shows steady increases in this market segment through 2008. Alcoa has developed a systemic means of optimizing chassis and suspension components to take full advantage of the benefits of aluminum to offer OEMs additional weight reduction and performance enhancement opportunities. The aluminum penetration into chassis and suspension systems has not kept pace with the penetration in power train. This is still a significant reduction in mass of the part. some existing aluminum chassis and suspension component designs are not optimized for the attributes of aluminum and do not take full advantage of the weight reductions possible by using the light metal in these applications. Geometry recommendations were made. and represents a jump in technology over current cast knuckle designs.5 5.5 15.htm 5. REFERENCES 1. (Pages 235 and 238).org/ep1. US Department of Energy. 6. 2.5 20. June 1215. Figure Eleven: Optimized design After adding features for molten material flow.5% improvement could be yielded. luxury and performance features. Inc. Lightweight Castings: Improving the Fuel Efficiency of America (page 6. Fort Meyers. and the CAD-generated geometry was iterated and finalized. and part ejection. Lightweight Castings: Improving the Fuel Efficiency of America (page 3). US Department of Energy. US Department of Energy. June 1215. table 2).5 10. table 5). part solidification.0 7. so the alloy development was targeted at 50% improvement in yield and fatigue stress. Mike Gwyn. Robert D. August 2003. Naranjo. Aluminum Association – Auto and Light Truck Group website: http://www. The total aluminum content in the average family vehicle has grown steadily since 1990 and is projected to continue to Mass Reduction (%) Strength Improvement (%) Increased use of aluminum in chassis and suspension systems reduces the overall weight of the vehicle. Advanced Technology Institute. Robert D. While the advanced CAE model suggested a 22. and a CAD model was generated. Ehr-Ping HuangFu. BCS. Through a combination of efforts in manufacturing process optimization. BCS. . The increased application of automotive aluminum has been an important element in their strategies.5% less mass than the original A356-T6 design. Volume One. 2004. 4. Gordon Xu for his contribution to development of advanced design optimization methods using CAE tools. Figure Ten: Tradeoff curves for alloy development from advanced CAE model optimization results From these curves. a final part design was created. When the properties were known and determined. BCS. CONCLUSION Major automotive OEM’s have developed strategies over the past 15 years to reverse the weight spiral in their vehicles brought on by the increased demand for safety. AFS/NADCA 108th Metalcasting Congress.30.5 25. Ehr-Ping HuangFu. Unfortunately. Lightweight Castings: Improving the Fuel Efficiency of America (page 5. AFS/NADCA 108th Metalcasting Congress. Inc. After completion of the tradeoff curves. Pinhas Barak for his insight into the benefits of utilizing aluminum in suspension systems. it can be seen that any increase in target stress beyond 50% would not result in any mass reduction of the part. Advanced Technology Institute. Naranjo.0 12. Inc.0 22. while maintaining elongation. Mike Gwyn. with assumptions being verified by simulation of the casting fill and solidification. November 2004. high-strength alloy development and advanced CAE techniques. 2004.0 17. Naranjo.autoaluminum.0 27. Demand & Supply Forecast for Metalcastings in the US. Robert D. Ehr-Ping HuangFu. AFS / Stratecasts. Inc. page 3 3.
August 2003. (Pages 236 and 237). 9. Ph: 616 842 3500 x1021 E-Mail: rick. Demand & Supply Forecast for Metalcastings in the US.email@example.com . Inc.autoaluminum.org/apps. Whitacre Product Development Manager Alcoa Inc. Borns Director of Technology & Program Management Alcoa Inc. AFS / Stratecasts. Fort Meyers.autoaluminum. FL.whitacre@alcoa. Aluminum Association – Auto and Light Truck Group website: http://www.com Donald E. Volume One.htm 8.htm CONTACT Rick A.7. Ph: 248 489 8228 E-Mail: don.org/de1. Aluminum Association – Auto and Light Truck Group website: http://www.
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