You are on page 1of 2


Lightweight Materials for the
Transportation Industry



everal newsworthy items crossed
The Doctor’s desk late last year: the
announcement that Alcoa officially opened
the world’s largest aluminum-lithium plant
in Lafayette, Ind., (IHDaily NewsBrief, Oct. 15);
the release of The Aluminum Quick Reference
App (ASM International, Oct. 16); and word
that Alcoa has signed a $1 billion contract with
Boeing to supply multiple aluminum components
over the next several years (Oct. 20).
These announcements peaked The Doctor’s
interest in learning more about the battle being
waged between aluminum and alternative materials in the transportation industry. To understand
who will win and why, one must look at the drivers
this industry faces to stay technologically relevant
as well as the lightweight material options, properties and costs. Let’s learn more.

Fuel consumption, greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions and global dimming/warming are the
principle drivers for change in the automotive
industry. For every 100 kg of weight reduction in
an automobile, a fuel savings of 0.3-0.5 L per 100
kilometers is possible with a reduction in CO2
emissions of 0.8-1.1 kg per 100 kilometers.
The interest in moving to aluminum and other
lightweight alloys in automobiles is fueled in
large part by government regulations/mandates,
cost (performance versus cost in dollars saved

per kilogram), safety (i.e., How light should we
go?) and performance (acceleration, braking,
handling, noise, vibration and harshness). Other
options are conventional low-carbon steel, with a
cost advantage while targeting weight reduction;
and HSLA steels and AHSS (advanced highstrength steels, or so-called “lightweight steel”),
where weight reduction is achieved by thinner/
lighter material made possible by higher strength.
Aluminum advantages are in the total amount
of aluminum used per vehicle, life-cycle/recycling
advantages, space frame versus monocoque (i.e.,
skin or “egg shell”), loading and forming/joining
(e.g., the absence of spot welds, use of rivets, etc.).
An example is the Corvette Z06 (Fig. 1),
which is ranked as Car & Drivers’ number-one
performance-ranked coupe and convertible. It
can achieve 650 horsepower in a choice of two
transmissions: a 7-speed manual or an 8-speed
paddle-shift automatic. The driver-centric Z06

Courtesy of Chevrolet

Fig. 1. Corvette Z06 showcasing the use of lightweight alloys

Table 1. Aerospace aluminum alloys






Low strength, excellent thermal/electrical conductivity and corrosion
resistance, high reflectivity

Fuel filters, electrical conductors, radiator tubing, lighting reflectors,
decorative components



High strength, relatively low corrosion resistance, good elevatedtemperature strength

Aircraft skin, fittings, wheels, ballistic armor, forged and machined



Medium strength, good formability, good corrosion resistance

Storage tanks, heat exchangers, pressure vessels



High castability, high machinability, high fluidity, low ductility

Large housing castings



Medium strength, good formability, excellent marine corrosion resistance Interior trim, pressure vessels, armor plate, marine and cryogenic


Mg, Si

Medium-to-high strength, good corrosion resistance, easily extruded

Piping, marine screw stock, door and window frames, exterior trim



Very high strength, prone to stress corrosion, poor corrosion resistance

Aircraft construction, armor plate



Very high strength, low density

Aircraft and aerospace structures, foil, heat-exchanger fin stock



BMW has introduced an Al-Mg die-cast engine block. and recyclability. the Ford F150. 4. U. 6061. October 2014 2. For every 1% (by weight) of lithium added. DOE briefing on Automotive Magnesium R&D for Lightweighting. Moving forward. Astronaut compartment on the Orion spacecraft • Precipitation hardening: When properly Fig. carbon/ carbon composites and aluminum-lithium alloys. lethal. the density of the resulting alloy is reduced by 3% and increases in stiffness by 5%. 3. Professor Joseph Benedyk.g. high thermal and electrical conductivity. Chicago Auto Show. For example.” 2014 . which helps block dislocations. Finally. Aluminium Battles Alternative Lightweight Materials in the Transportation Race. Design challenges such as pressure testing cracks during weld strength testing have yet to be fully addressed. On or off the track it is available with an industry-exclusive Performance Data Recorder. which allows less of it to be used. Each lithium atom then displaces one aluminum atom from the crystal lattice while maintaining the lattice structure.. 5454) and 6xxx series alloys (e. which has undergone a dramatic redesign taking advantage of the best of steel and lightweight alloys.g. density (one third of steel).. 2014 5. Aluminium Exposition. Navy (retired). Both BMW and GM have an all Mg block (Fig. This effect works up to the solubility limit of lithium in aluminum. Another example is the number-one selling truck in the U. technical contributions and private correspondence 3. 20 FEBRUARY 2015 ■ IndustrialHeating.S. ease of forming. Aluminum alloy 6463 is used in the body and bed to reduce the total vehicle weight by 320 kg (705 pounds). corrosion resistance (although pitting and crevicecorrosion problems have arisen). Alcoa Defense and Derek Novak. which is 4. Webinar on “Advantages of Aluminum in Marine Applications. 6005. availability and diversity of semifinished products. all-aluminum combat ships have been introduced and are designed to be fast. as they like to say in the Navy. survivable and affordable. Precipitates strengthen the metal by impeding dislocation motion during deformation. Herring. • Strain hardening: Introducing another type of atom into the crystal strains the lattice. Presentation at the SECO/ WARWICK Aluminum Seminar. Aeromat 2015 7. maneuverable and modular – or. References 1. 2014 6. product form. 5083. 5456. Dusseldorf GmbH. Illinois Institute of Technology/Thermal Processing Technology Center and Editor Light Metal Age magazine. The resulting material is stronger. ABS Americas.2%. which allows for customization of vehicle performance dynamics with the turn of a knob.. Aluminum’s dominance is being challenged today by GFRPs (graphite-fiber reinforced plastics). 2. GHG emissions sustainability and global dimming/warming are also the principle change drivers in the aerospace industry. which is 15% lighter than a comparable all-Al alloy engine. lithium forms a metastable Al3Li phase (δ’) with a coherent crystal structure.S. function and specifications will influence (and perhaps dictate) the way in which we will perform heat treatment. Dr. Commander Fred Latrash. Aluminum in the 5xxx series (e. Daniel H. All-magnesium. Brett Conner. changes in the alloys. Conclusion What stands out in this discussion is that the materials are changing and with them our role as heat treaters. bending and machining. 6082) are in use. 2) under development that is 25% lighter than an all-Al engine. 5086. 3) has olive-green aluminum-lithium metal panels designed to be covered by an advanced version of the thermal protection tiles that were earlier used on the space shuttle.. flexible. which records high-definition video with telemetry overlays on playback. nonmagnetic properties. 2014. Aerospace Aluminum has a long history in aviation (Table 1). the Orion spacecraft (Fig. Fuel consumption.Courtesy of NASA THE HEAT TREAT DOCTOR® Fig. Alloying with lithium reduces structural mass by three effects: • Displacement: A lithium atom is lighter than an aluminum atom. six-cylinder engine block developed by the DOE with GM’s R&D team includes technologies like a Driver Mode Selector. weldability. The properties and attributes of aluminum that make it an attractive choice are its high strength-to-weight ratio.