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New advanced metals processing center opens at Brunel

The new Advanced Metal Processing Center (AMPC) has opened at Brunel University London. The new center provides a boost for manufacturers to work with Brunel on large-scale research and development activity, enabling innovations such as novel structures for lightweight car parts to make the leap from the lab to full-scale industrial trials.

The AMPC, which was officially opened at the Brunel Center for Advanced Solidification Technology (BCAST) on 13 June, is funded by £15 million (US$20 million) from the UK government, providing the equipment and infrastructure to attract industrial match funding through people and resources from partners such as Constellium and Jaguar Land Rover. This will help to develop the future generation of engineers, designers, scientists and materials specialists, and to accelerate automotive lightweighting through the deployment of world-leading, high-performance aluminium alloys and innovative technologies.

AMPC 9

Touring the AMPC equipment at the opening.

The AMPC’s 1,500 square meters of working space, in a bespoke building on Brunel’s campus in Uxbridge, is the second phase of BCAST’s scale-up facility, following on from 2016’s launch of the Advanced Metal Casting Center (AMCC).

The industrial and pilot-scale metal processing equipment enables:

  • Processing and fabrication of extruded metals, such as novel bending processes, machining and advanced joining techniques;

  • Further casting processes, such as gravity die casting and sand casting, adding to those available in the AMCC; and

  • Supporting materials characterization, such as for testing strength and fatigue, and including 3D x-ray tomography.

        

A key feature of the AMPC and AMCC is that BCAST’s researchers and seconded engineers from its partners will work side by side.

Constellium also concurrently announced the expansion of its research and development capability at Brunel. After establishing a University Technology Center in 2016, Constellium is dedicating an R&D Center within the campus to transition technology from the laboratory to its production facilities around the world.

The automotive industry is advancing technology at an unprecedented pace, and the AMPC is a tremendous resource for automakers, allowing rapid prototyping with state-of-the art forming and joining techniques to help shape lightweight, high-strength components for the next generation of vehicles. Constellium is thrilled to be expanding its presence at Brunel University London and to be at the forefront of development for aluminium automotive structural components.

—Paul Warton, President of Constellium’s Automotive Structures and Industry business unit

Constellium has already delivered international projects stemming from work with BCAST, including one for Tesla: The Model 3 is supplied with the front and rear crash management systems from Constellium developed with ultra-high-strength alloys in Brunel.

Equipment offered at the AMPC includes:

  • Sand casting: Commercial foundry equipment forming a no-bake (air-set) sand casting line, for moulds up to 1 m × 1 m in size, comprising hopper, sand mixer, vibratory compaction, roll-over, 300 kg furnace for melting aluminium, heated ladle and de-coring oven.

  • Gravity die casting: A commercial 90° tilting gravity die casting machine, with 800 × 500 mm platens and four double die cooling channels for air and water, capable of casting components up to 20 kg in weight.

  • Free-form bending: A commercial 6-axis servohydraulic computer numerical control (CNC) free-form bending machine to allow continuously fed extruded profiles of up to 4 m in length to be bent into complex geometries.

  • Roll bending: A commercial 35-tonne roll bending machine, with three individually servomotor-driven rolls, computer control, automatic radius correction, and positioning resolution of 1/100 mm.

  • Electromagnetic pulse forming and welding: An innovative method of shaping and joining that uses the force generated by short, energetic electromagnetic pulses in combination with field shapers, mandrels and dies. It can be used for many applications including shaping hollow sections and joining dissimilar metals.

  • Heat treatment: A range of large heat treatment ovens for homogenization, solution and ageing treatments of billets, extruded profiles, fabricated components and cast components. The facilities include a water/polymer quench bath.

  • Machining: Machining facilities include a CNC machining center, CNC lathe, electro-discharge wire cutting, and other workshop equipment. The equipment is used for fabricating prototype components and machining test specimens.

  • Joining: A cold metal transfer (CMT) welding set with a universal robot, for welding at very low heat input to minimise distortion and for welding thin gauges. A flow drill screwdriving system, which forms holes, threads and inserts a screw in a single step: ideal for joining to hollow sections and where access is difficult.

  • Mechanical testing: A 100 kN servohydraulic fatigue test frame and a 100 kN electromechanical universal test frame, both with environment chambers for testing at up to 600°C. Strain measurement by contact extensometry and a dual-camera optical strain measurement system. Supported by hardness testing and inspection microscopes.

  • X-ray CT scanning: Two x-ray computed tomography systems for 3D inspection: a 450 kV system for inspection of large-sized components, capable of imaging defects of 100 μm; and a 150 kV system with micron-scale resolution in small samples.

  • Optical 3D scanning: Precise measurement of components by stereo-camera optical 3D scanning with triple-scan functionality, additional photogrammetry, touch probes for out-of-sight measurement, and inspection turntable.

Funding for the AMPC has been provided through a £15-million award from the Higher Educational Funding Council for England (HEFCE) UKRPIF programme (now managed by Research England) and multi-million pounds of cash and in-kind support for R&D from the private sector over ten years.

The AMPC’s research partners include Constellium, Jaguar Land Rover, Grainger & Worrall, Sarginsons Industries, Aeromet International, Innoval Technology and Norton Aluminium.

Examples of Innovate UK projects that have been using the AMCC and will use the AMPC from its outset:

Carbon Aluminium Automotive Hybrid Structures (CAAHS); Partners: Gordon Murray Design Limited (lead), Innoval Technology Limited, Constellium UK Limited. Gordon Murray Design’s iStream automotive manufacturing technology allows significant reductions in setup, production costs, vehicle mass, and lifecycle CO2 emissions, while offering cost-effective design flexibility that exceeds current Euro NCAP occupant and pedestrian impact regulations.

The project consortium of Gordon Murray Design, Innoval Technology Limited, Constellium and Brunel University London’s BCAST aim to develop an iStream monocoque that is 30–40% lighter than the incumbent steel/glass fiber composite structure. Using a novel high-strength extrusion alloy combined with advanced composite panels based on recycled carbon fibre, the project aims to further reduce CO2 emissions through significant lightweighting, whilst maintaining the high-volume, low-cost benefits of the original disruptive iStream technology.

The project also aims to take another major step, making full use of the iStream process, towards a new generation of lightweight vehicles for the UK market that can have a major impact on the UK government’s carbon reduction targets for the UK vehicle fleet.

Lightweight Energy Absorbing Aluminium Structures (LEAAST); Partners: Jaguar Land Rover Limited (Lead), Luxfer Gas Cylinders Limited, Sarginsons Industries Limited, Advanced Forging and Forming Research Center, Innoval Technology Limited, Grainger & Worrall Limited, Norton Aluminium Limited, Constellium UK Limited, T. A. Savery & Co Limited. Lightweight crash management systems are of increasing importance for most forms of ground transport. Automotive OEMs like JLR have advanced aluminium automotive body designs but still depend on steel for bumper beams. For rail applications, steel-based crash systems predominate. Constellium has developed considerably stronger extrusion alloys based on the AA6xxx alloy system that are fully recycling compatible with the sheet used for automotive structures and body panels.

Brunel University London’s BCAST has developed alloys and casting technologies that enable extrusions and castings to be combined in novel ways to produce a new generation of compact lightweight crash management systems. The envisaged work program will include a high-strength alloy being combined with casting alloys using overcasting techniques and the use of bonded and riveted joints to demonstrate the potential for both increased crash resistance and weight saving. The project will demonstrate and evaluate optimized designs for crash management systems for both automotive and rail transport.

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