Owner, Johannes Messer-Consulting GmbH
Article Series - Part 2 4 Challenges in Aluminum High Pressure Die Casting: Product Portfolio
This article series is dedicated to the changes and developments in the aluminum high pressure die casting industry. The second chapter deals with the product portfolio, as one of the four challenges, and its changes in die casting.
For the past 50 years, the growth of the aluminum foundry industry has been characterized by the substitution of different engine and gearbox components with aluminum castings. Automobile engine blocks and truck gearboxes were the last significant parts from the early 1980s, which led to significant market growth in the field of aluminum casting. Meanwhile, this substitution is completed in principle. In addition to Europe, all other regions worldwide have now followed suit. In the engine and transmission sector, no increases in the aluminum casting requirement due to substitution are expected.
With global demands to drastically reduce CO2 emissions, as Figure 1 shows in the picture gallery, is the automotive industry as one of the major CO2 polluters under heavy pressure. E-mobility and weight reduction are currently the levers with the greatest potential for CO2 reduction.
The following megatrends of the automotive industry will revolutionize the product portfolio of aluminum foundries:
- Autonomous driving
The time horizon is difficult to predict and, at least in the case of electrification, depends largely on policy requirements
As a result of this development, the aluminum foundry industry will experience the biggest change in the product portfolio of the past 100 years. The previous "bread and butter" parts, engine and transmission will disappear. New parts in the powertrain will be created. Together with the growth market of chassis and structural parts, there is the potential to generate growth in the area of aluminum casting in the next few years, despite this dramatic change. Demand forecasts predict this.
The Growth Market "Chassis and Structural Parts"
The increase in chassis and structural parts is significantly changing the product portfolio, as shown in Figure 2 in the picture gallery. Products that used to be made of steel are now made of light metals. In order to be able to produce the ever larger chassis and structural parts, machines with greater clamping forces are necessary. For this reason, all major casting machine manufacturers already offer casting machines with over 3,500 tons of clamping force. The largest machines are already at 5,500 or 5,600 tons. What do the changes in the product portfolio mean for foundries?
- High investment in "large" die casting machines (growth market)
- High costs for new product launches and process developments
- Result "losses" (cash flow) due to declining volumes of the current series parts (engine and transmission)
- Strong competition due to overcapacities in the locking force ranges 1,800 to - 2,500 to (previously high proportion of engine and transmission parts)
- Many new orders lead to an large demand in the short term for employees with foundry know-how
Ultimately, cost optimization must be carried out in order to meet the requirements. The changes in the product portfolio offer opportunities and risks. Only foundries with appropriate technology, financial strength, employees and ultimately strategy are able to seize the opportunity.
Lightweight Design in the Automotive Industry
By reducing energy consumption, lightweight design is advantageous for everything that moves. The automobile manufacturer Fiat Chrysler (FCA), together with the Spanish interior designer Grupo Antolin and the US Department of Energy, has developed an ultra-light door module that reduces the weight of the module by 42.5% compared to conventional doors. Germany sets a good example by supporting and expanding this technology with an “Lightweight Construction" initiative led by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy.
Lightweight Design in the Aircraft Industry
Aluminum is also widely used in the aircraft industry for weight savings. However, much more savings of up to 56% can be achieved using a magnesium production process that Autodesk and Aristo Cast foundry have explored in cooperation. The project combines traditional manufacturing methods with modern technologies such as generative design and industrial 3D printing. For example, the use of lightweight seat frames in an Airbus A380 would result in a weight reduction of 557 kg. This saving is like a revolution in aviation, where every gram counts.
Read now more about the special casting and melting process: How to save costs and kerosene through investment casting and generative design.