Steel and Lightweighting: How Does It Compete With Aluminum?

Ron Krupitzer on the future of the steel industry’s innovation.

MetalMiner recently had the chance to sit down with Ron Krupitzer, vice president, automotive market for the Steel Market Development Institute. Having covered the aluminum industry’s involvement in lightweighting, we wanted to get the steel perspective on the issue. This portion of the interview is continued from Part Two.

MetalMiner: How important are advancements in both new alloys and welding and joining technology, respectively?

Ron Krupitzer: The tool that is often neglected, but becomes even more important, is joining — how do you join these materials? Our study FutureSteelVehicle pointed out the value of continuous joining such as laser welding and adhesive bonding. These two technologies spread out the load over a broader area compared to isolated spot welds. The vehicle will be stiffer and you can design lighter sections that do the same job of providing vehicle stiffness and strength with continuous joining. More and more car companies are exploring the use of laser welding with these materials and benefiting from spot welding with adhesives (called weld bonding).

MM: On the technology-innovation front, which sector (steel or aluminum) has the competitive advantage over the next decade? Why?

RK: [In a cheeky ‘announcer’ voice] Here’s my forecast for the future! [In all seriousness…] We’ve worked very carefully with the [Department of Energy] DOE on technologies to help steel become more effective in mass reduction. But we’ve also seen other materials take the same approach…there’s no doubt that each material is going to contribute something to [the lightweighting] cause. I don’t think anyone has the complete corner on the technologies that car companies are going to select. I do think that some of the inventiveness of competing materials will find its way into the vehicle. One of the challenges will be how to best manage the different materials that will show up in future vehicles. In the early days, when we experimented with plastic fenders and plastic body panels, for example, we had difficulty in understanding how these panels would work together with steel or aluminum. Things like thermal expansion became a big problem — panels would change shape from summer to winter — not a great thing for vehicle quality. In the end, over the next 10 or 15 years, people will be surprised at how much advanced high-strength steel can satisfy the needs of the car companies.

MM: What about the demand for steel, in terms of lightweighting, in the global auto industry?

RK: We are quite aware of material trends around the world. We’re looking at what’s happening in Europe and in higher-price vehicles we’re seeing higher uses of aluminum in closure panels, for example. This is supported in many cases by the higher price per vehicle and lower volumes. Even carbon fiber is being used in specialty applications. We’re using that as a chance to study what the trends could be, and putting together counter-measures so that we can provide steel solutions that are comparable to other material solutions. It’s not only the US Environmental Protection Agency putting new laws out [that spur lightweighting], it’s Europe, Japan — everyone’s trying to make low-emission vehicles.

Missed the previous parts of the interview? Here they are:

Part One

Part Two

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