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Cutting aluminum costs

by David Zatz on

Switching to aluminum bodies has required new factories or extensive refits, costing Ford hundreds of millions of dollars to switch its F-150 series from steel to aluminum. GM, however, has 20 patents for a method of welding aluminum panels together (rather than using adhesives and fasteners) using existing lines, robots, and welding guns — according to an article in today’s Automotive News.

In essence, GM adds a transformer to its welders to allow higher power (they can switch to lower power for steel), adds liquid cooling lines, and uses copper welding tips with copper welding caps which prevents aluminum oxide from trapping hydrogen gases in the melted metal. The caps, which cost under $1 each, have to be resurfaced after every fifty welds, and last for 4,000 welds.

The system allows steel to be welded to aluminum, and is already in use on the company’s large SUVs and the Corvette, which have aluminum liftgates and an aluminum underbody, respectively. Chrysler might be able to license the system to reduce its own costs as it reportedly moves to more use of aluminum in the future; though, with Fiat working more with resins, aluminum might be either a stepping-stone, or part of several tools in the company’s kit.

Chrysler Corporation pioneered aluminum bodies with the Prowler, but after it was taken over by Daimler-Benz, much of the team that worked on the car went to Ford, and DaimlerChrysler did not substantially continue its research into, and use of, aluminum and resins.

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