Aluminum giant Alcoa said today it has solved one of the biggest wrinkles automakers wrestle with when stamping aluminum body panels: formability.
The company has developed a new manufacturing process that produces aluminum sheet that is 40 percent more formable than the current aluminum alloys that are used on such vehicles as the Range Rover SUV and Ford F-150 pickup -- the two highest volume aluminum-bodied vehicles.
The Alcoa Micromill process changes the structure of the metal, enabling automakers to stamp body panels with deeper curves and creases. As the aluminum-bodied F-150 was ramping up for production this fall, Ford wrestled with aluminum panels that split or had other defects when they were being formed in giant stamping machines.
The changes enabled by Alcoa’s Micromill process come at the molecular level. “The rate at which the metal solidifies from a liquid to a solid is so fast that it locks in the alloying elements,” said Ray Kilmer, Alcoa’s chief technology officer. “Because it happens so fast, we are able to solidify chemistries more uniformly,” he said.
Alcoa claims aluminum produced in its Micromill process is 30 percent lighter than the same parts stamped from high-strength steel and twice as formable.