Product benchmarking is the process of measuring and analyzing the performance of competitive products. Data from a benchmarking analysis is used at the early stages of product development where performance targets are being set for a new vehicle. As an example of benchmarking, consider setting the mass target for the body structure of a new vehicle program. We want to set a target that is light weight, but also one that is possible to achieve. We benchmark two competitive body structures to help us set the target, Figure 1.
Figure 1: Mass data for two benchmarked vehicles.
From this limited data, it appears a sufficient target for the new program would be 300 kg, the lighter of the two. But there are questions to be resolved: Are these two structures representative of efficient light weighting? Also, if the vehicle under design is of a slightly different size than these two vehicles, how will this affect the applicability of benchmark comparison?
A means to begin to address these concerns is simply to look at more benchmark vehicles. The tear-down database at A2Mac1 Automotive Benchmarking contains mass data for several hundred vehicles. From this database, structure mass for 280 steel sedans is plotted in Figure 2. This expanded data allows us to see a more complete picture of the range of mass exhibited in the market place. Vehicle A and B considered before no longer stand out as exceptional. While this additional data provides an understanding of the average and range of body structure mass, there are concerns with interpreting this chart. Do the lighter structures represent efficient designs or are they just the structures of smaller vehicles?
Figure 2: Body structure mass data for 280 benchmarked vehicles.
We can answer this question by investigating how structure mass varies with mass drivers. Two mass drivers for body structure are vehicle size as measured by plan view area, and structural loading taken to depend on the Gross Vehicle Mass. In Figure 3 we use the same vehicles shown in Figure 2, but now plot structure mass versus each mass driver.
Figure 3: Structure mass vs. vehicle plan view area (left), and gross vehicle mass (right).
The correlation of structure mass for each of these mass drivers is very clearly demonstrated by the trend lines shown: Body structures are heavier for larger cars (left graph), and heavier when they must support greater vehicle mass (right graph). We can quantify these correlations with an equation determined by statistical regression, Equation 1. This equation represents the mass of an average or typical body structure, given its GVM and Area.
mSTRUCT=Mass of body structure (kg)
GVM =Gross vehicle mass (kg)
Area =Plan view area (Length x Width) (m2)
Now for each of the vehicles in our original data set we can calculate the expected structure mass using the vehicle’s GVM and Area. Figure 4 plots the actual measured structure mass vs. the mass expected for that vehicle using Equation 1. The diagonal line indicates those vehicles where the body mass is average or typical. For those structures above the line, body mass is heavier than expected given the area and GVM of the vehicle. And for those below the line, body mass is lighter than expected. This group below the line are the mass efficient body structures that are of interest for fuller analysis.
Figure 4: Actual measured structure mass compared to that expected using equation 1.
Note that looking only at structure mass, as in Figure 2, does not lead to understanding which structures are efficient. For example, Vehicle A in Figure 1 is the lighter of the two structures, 300 kg vs. 325 kg. However, after accounting for the two vehicle’s area and GVM, it can be seen from Figure 4 that Vehicle A is above the diagonal line, indicating a heavier than expected structure, while Vehicle B is on the line indicating it has a typical structure mass.
As a further example, consider the WorldAutoSteel FutureSteelVehicle (FSV). The FSV project, completed in 2011, investigated the weight reduction potential enabled with the use of Advanced High-Strength Steels (AHSS), advanced manufacturing processes, and the use of computer optimization. The resulting material use and body structure mass are shown in Figure 5.
Figure 5: FSV material application and resulting body structure mass.
We can now graph the actual FSV structure mass with expected mass, Figure 6. The data point is well below the diagonal line quantifying the exceptional mass reduction enabled through extensive AHSS use.
Figure 6: FSV body structure compared with 280 normalized benchmarked structures.
Finally, statistical benchmarking reveals which current products would benefit most from lightweighting. Looking again at the plot of actual vs. expected body structure mass for a fixed expected mass, in this case 300 kg, Figure 7. For this set of similarly sized vehicles, there is a wide range of variability in actual mass, indicated by the arrow. For the several vehicles above the diagonal, these body structures are heavier than expected and have significant potential for lightweighting.
Figure 7: Variability in structure mass for similar size vehicles.
For more information on the statistical benchmarking method, see the studies referenced in No. 2 and 3 below. Dr. Malen’s statistical benchmarking methodology also is documented in SAE Paper No. 2015-01-0574
1. A2Mac1.com, Automotive benchmarking.
2. Malen, D., Nagaraj, B., Automotive Mass Benchmarking 2017 study
3. Hughes, J. & Malen, D., Statistical Benchmarking of Automotive Closures, Great Designs in Steel, 2015,
4. FutureSteelVehicle Overview Report, April 2011,
Dr. Donald E. Malen University of Michigan
Dr. Donald E. Malen is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Michigan where he teaches graduate level courses in Automobile Body Structure and Product Design. Prior to this, he was an engineer with General Motors Corporation for 35 years. His background at GM was in automotive body structure design and analysis, and systems engineering. While at GM, he worked on many new vehicle programs and has brought this experience to his teaching and writing. Dr. Malen consults and conducts international seminars on Body Engineering, Innovation, Lead Time Reduction, and Decision Making During Preliminary Design. He holds several patents related to automobile body structure and vibration. His education includes a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering from the University of Michigan, an MS from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a BSME from General Motors Institute (Kettering University).
Advanced Steel Processing Technologies For
Reduced Cost, Reduced Mass and Improved Functional Performance
Laser (Tailor) Welded Blanks
A laser welded blank is two or more sheets of steel seam-welded together into a single blank which is then stamped into a part. Laser welded blank technology allows for the placement of various steel grades and thicknesses within a specific part, placing steel’s attributes where they are most needed for part function, and removing weight that does not contribute to part performance. For example, Figure 1 shows a laser welded body side aperture (outer) with multiple grades and thicknesses. This technology allows for a reduction in panel thickness in non-critical areas, thus contributing to an overall mass reduction of the part.
Figure 1: Body-side outer with exposed laser welds and multi-piece construction.
There are several advantages to a laser welded blank, compared with conventional blanks made from a single grade and part thickness. They include:
- Superior vehicle strength and rigidity
- Consolidation of parts, where one blank can replace several different parts
- Lower vehicle and part weight
- Reduced steel usage
- Improved safety
- Elimination of reinforcement parts
- Elimination of assembly processes
- Reduction in capital spending for stamping and spot-welding equipment
- Reduced inventory costs
- Improved dimensional integrity (fit and finish)
- Achievement of high-performance objectives with lower total costs
- Reduction in Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (NVH)
- Elevated customer-perceived quality
A laser-welded coil (Figure 2) is a continuous coil of steel comprised of individual, separate coils of steel with varying thickness and grades. The basic process takes separate coils, prepares their edges for contiguous joining, and laser welds these together into one master coil. The new strip is then readied for blanking, or to be used as a continuous feed into a transfer press line.
As in laser-welded blanks, the laser-welded coil allows for similar advantages – targeted strength or stiffness where required, while allowing for overall part weight reduction by incorporate thinner materials where possible.
Figure 2: Laser-welded coil process
Potential use of a laser welded coil in an automotive application, using a pro-die-stamping process, includes the following:
- Roof frames
- Roof bows
- Side members
- Seat cross members
- Exhaust systems
This is a manufacturing process of flexible cold strip rolling by varying the gap between two rolls, allowing for different strip thicknesses in the direction of rolling. Figure 3 illustrates the manufacturing principles. The accurate measuring and controlling technology ensure that strip thickness tolerances are maintained. A tailor-rolled coil can be either used for blanking operations (for stamping or tubular blanks) or can be directly fed into a roll-forming line.
Figure 3: The principle of producing a Tailor Rolled Coil.
A comparison of various mechanical sheared edges with water jet, laser and milled edges showed that laser-cut edges achieved elongations that approached that of the ideal milled edge. As a response to increasing AHSS volumes and strength levels, multiple companies have developed laser blanking lines, where a coil is blanked via a laser or series of lasers. These new lines are capable of cutting blanks on a high-volume basis.
There are several advantages to this approach when processing AHSS. Improved edge conditions are less susceptible to edge fracture, and thus is significant. Additional savings can be achieved through the elimination of expensive blank die construction and tooling maintenance costs (no blank die is needed) and thus no expensive trim steels are required (AHSS usually requires more durable and more expensive tool steels). Less floor space is needed because there are no blank dies to store. With no blank dies to remove and replace, faster line transitions occur, which means greater uptime and increased productivity. There is also the opportunity to optimize material utilization through either blank nesting optimization or blanking two or more different blanks out of the same steel strip.
Figure 4 shows an example of optimized laser blank nesting of three different blanks from the same coil. Blank contours can easily be modified after production launch as well. As many AHSS grades are rolling-direction sensitive with respect to edge and shear fracture, alternative nesting can potentially optimize the blank orientation to minimize these types of local formability failures.
Figure 4: Schematic of 3 different blanks to be laser blanked from the same coil to minimize engineered scrap. Not only is engineered scrap minimized, but the superior edge condition significantly reduces the potential for edge fracture.
The decision for laser blanking should be made during development, in order maximize overall process efficiency and avoid building a blank die or other non-essential tooling. Figure 5 shows a typical laser blanking line specifically designed to process AHSS.
Figure 5: Laser blanking line specifically designed to process AHSS. Note the cartridge-based straightener (far left), specifically designed to ensure blanks are flat after processing.
The diverse microstructures and strength levels of AHSS products present some challenges for stamping operations. Cutting and punching clearances are greater for AHSS, and as a general rule, should be increased with increasing sheet material strength. The clearances range from about 6% of the thickness for Mild steel but grow to between 10% and 16% for strength levels of 1 GPa or more.
Two-hole punching studies1 were conducted with Mild steel and AHSS. The first measured tool wear (captured in Figure 1), while the second studied burr height formation (Figure 2).
Wear testing was performed with four 1.0 mm thick sheet steels: Mild 140/270, DP 350/600, DP 500/800, and MS 1150/1400. Tool steels were W.Nr. A2 with a hardness of 61 HRC and a 6% clearance for Mild steel tests. PM tools with a hardness range of 60-62 HRC were used for all AHSS testing. For the DP 350/600, the punch was coated with CVD (TiC) and the clearance was set at 6%. Tool clearances for DP 500/800 were 10%, and for MS 1150/1400 were set at 14%.
Figure 1: Punching up to DP 500/800 with surface treated high quality tool steels can be comparable to Mild steel with conventional tools.1
The studies showed that wear rates for AHSS DP steels punched with surface treated high quality (PM) tool steels were comparable to punching Mild steel with conventional tools. Wear rates for MS were more than twice that of the DP steels. Increasing burr height is often the reason for sharpening trim steels and punches, as burrs can reduce metal formability. For Mild steels the burr height increases with increasing ductility and tool wear.
Figure 2 shows a burr height plateau for AHSS; both materials initially have a burr height related to the material ductility and the sharpness of the tools. AHSS fractures at a maximum possible height that is reached when the maximum local elongation is obtained during punching, after which the burr height does not increase. The Mild steel, which is more formable, will continue to generate higher burr height with increased tool wear.
Figure 2: Burr height comparison for Mild steel and AHSS as a function of the number of hits. Results for DP 500/800 and MS 1150/1400 are identical and shown as the AHSS curve.1
The burr height increased with tool wear and increasing die clearance when punching Mild steel. AHSS may require a higher-grade tool steel or surface treatment to avoid tool wear, but tool regrinding because of burrs should be less of a problem. If the tool has been surface-treated, grinding the tool will remove the surface treatment, so if possible, the tool must be retreated. If burr height is the criterion, high quality tool steels will result in greater intervals between sharpening when punching AHSS, since the burr height does not increase as quickly with tool wear as when punching Mild steel with conventional tool steels.
As there are many different tool steels, tool steel treatments and tool steel coatings, shops are encouraged to identify the dominant mode of tool failure in order to select the tool steel with the properties to counter that failure mode. There are five main types of cold work failure modes involving tool steels: wear, plastic deformation, chipping cracking, and galling. Figure 3 shows examples of these five failure modes.
Figure 3: Five main modes of tooling failure.2
The following case study illustrates the importance of clearly identifying the mode(s) of failure on the part, as well as the mode of failure on the tooling, to improve the selection of counter-measures. A dash reinforcement had been in production for several years, stamped with a 280 MPa yield strength HSLA steel. To improve side impact ratings, the part transitioned to DP 600. Immediately after implementation, stamping scrap rates increased significantly. The failures were all determined to be local formability edge fractures; investigation revealed that the blank for this part was configured and that the blanked edge at the edge fracture was part of the final product edge. Figure 4 shows one of the blanked cut-outs which is then drawn and flanged. The edge condition had burrs and a poor burnish to fracture zone. See Figure 5 for a photo of the edge fracture.
The blank die material was examined and determined to be the same D2 tool steel as was when the steel was HSLA. Further examination determined that no clearance adjustments were made for the higher strength steel, maintained at 10% of metal thickness instead of an optimal setting of 15%. Additionally, the inserts used to make the u-shaped cut-outs were wearing and failing at an alarming rate.
|Figure 4: End of a blank on a dash reinforcement where the blanked cut-out becomes part of the product on the finished part. Close examination shows a poor edge condition.2
||Figure 5: Local formability edge fracture emanating from a blanked edge in a stretch flange operation, and location of metal gainer eventually added to the draw die.
||Figure 6: Worn and broken D2 inserts being used on a DP 600 AHSS steel.
The failures were so frequent that a series of back-up inserts had been constructed so the worn/damaged inserts could be quickly replaced. Figure 6 shows worn and broken inserts. It became clear that the failure modes involved both wear and fractures. An alternative, more durable tool steel (trade name caldie) with increased clearances was inserted in the blanking die. This change enabled the inserts to operate with over 90,000 hits and virtually no insert maintenance required (other than routine cleaning). This change significantly reduced the scrap rate, but sporadic edge fractures were still being experienced. As a result, breakdown panels of the draw, trim and flange operations were examined. It was found that the draw die at the location in question was not forming the part to the final length of line. As DP steels have a very high work hardening rate, stretch flanging a blanked edge significantly increases the potential for edge fracture. To compensate, a small metal gainer was added to the draw die to ensure that the flanging operation deformed the steel via bending and straightening, not additional stretch (see also Figure 5). After these two process changes, scrap rates for edge fractures dropped to virtually zero.
Selecting the proper tool steels for specific grades of AHSS is critically important and will reduce long term maintenance, repair and scrap/rework costs. Some of the more elaborate tool steels, are significantly more expensive than those used with mild steels. As a result, some automakers and steel processors don’t use the more durable (and expensive) tool steels on the entire working surface of the die. They strategically identify high wear and difficult to maintain areas and install tool steels as inserts in those locations. Figures 7 and 8 show caldie inserts installed on blank dies in difficult to maintain locations.
Figure 7: Caldie insert used to address wear and cracking issues on the blank die.2
Figure 8: Caldie insert in a difficult to maintain location on a blank die. 2
1 B. Carlsson, “Choice of Tool Materials for Punching and Forming of Extra- and Ultra High Strength Steel Sheet,” 3rd International Conference and Exhibition on Design and Production of Dies and Molds and 7th International Symposium on Advances in Abrasive Technology, Bursa, Turkey (June 17-19, 2004).
2 Courtesy of Peter Mooney Peter Mooney, 3S-Superior Stamping Solutions, LLC
Die wear is affected by, but not limited to, steel strength and surface friction, contact pressure, sliding velocity, temperature, die surface treatment and lubrication. As the material strength and hardness is increased, an increase in die wear occurs which leads to quality issues in the stamping. In addition, frequent die wear requires more frequent die maintenance or replacement, affecting turnaround times, productivity and cost.
Actions can be taken to prevent excessive wear on die materials when forming Advanced High-Strength Steels. To prevent such wear, new die materials and better coatings have been developed to maintain their hardness without compromising the toughness of the material. Hard material coatings and nitriding have also been used to improve the tribological properties of die surfaces.
Tool and Die Materials
In general, the considerably higher strength levels associated with AHSS grades exerts proportionally increased forces on the die material. AHSS might reach strength levels four to five times higher than mild steels, approaching 2000 MPa. This is based on complex metallurgy that delivers high concentrations of martensite and very high work hardening rates.
The higher forces required to form AHSS require increased attention to tool and die material specifications. Key requirements that need to be specified are the stiffness and toughness of the die substrate, as well as the surface treatments and hardness of the die coating. Life and performance of a draw die is determined by the amount of wear/galling that accumulates during forming, which then defines specific die maintenance intervals. When selecting die materials, important considerations are:
- Sheet metal being processed, characterized by strength, thickness, and surface coating.
- Die construction, machinability, radii sharpness, surface finish, and die hardness, specifically on draw beads and radii.
- Cost per part.
Thickness reduction for weight saving is one primary reason for applications of AHSS. Unfortunately, the reduced thickness of the steel increases the tendency to wrinkle. Higher blankholder loads are required to suppress these wrinkles. Any formation of wrinkles will increase the local load and accelerate the wear effects. Figure 1 shows a draw die with severe die wear due to excessive wrinkling on a DP780 part. It is not uncommon to replace these high wear areas with a more durable tool steel insert to minimize this type of excessive wear condition.
Figure 1: Draw die with significant wear due to excessive wrinkling on a DP780 part.
Tool steel inserts for forming dies must be selected according to the severity of the forming. Surface coatings are recommended for DP 350/600 and higher grades. When coatings are used, it is important that the substrate has sufficient hardness/strength to avoid plastic deformation of the tool surface, even locally. Therefore, a separate surface hardening, such as nitriding, is recommended before the coating is applied. Prior to coating application, it is important to use the die in in pre-production to provide time to adjust forming conditions and establish die performance Surface roughness must be as low as possible before coating. Ra values below 0.2 µm are recommended. Steel inserts with a TiC/TiN coating are recommended for local high-pressure conditions that cause accelerated die wear and zinc flaking.
Table 1, provided by the Auto/Steel Partnership, describes recommended construction materials for stamping dies and components, based on significant research efforts. North American Automotive Metric Standards (NAAMS) are the product of a consortium between Ford, GM, FCA and various North America automotive steel producers.
Table 1 – Recommended Materials for Specific Die Components – NAAMS Standards
Tool steels for cutting, trimming, and punching operations must be similarly selected. For these operations, tensile strength is more important than yield strength. Tool hardness between 58 and 62 HRC is recommended. Coatings may be used to reduce tool wear, but for the highest strength steels (above 1000 MPa tensile strength) coatings may fail due to local deformation of the die material substrate.
To prevent this, hardening of the substrate prior to coating is again strongly recommended. High performance tool steels, such as powder metallurgy (PM) grades, can be expensive but are justified because of their low wear rate and increased life. Ceramic tool inserts have extreme hardness for wear resistance, high heat resistance, and optimum tribological behavior, but have poor machinability and severe brittleness. High costs are offset by reduced maintenance and increased productivity. While not commonly used, the ceramic tool inserts offer a possible solution to high
interface loading and wear.
The following study is a computerized analysis of the energy required to form a cross member with a hat-profile and a bottom embossment at the end of the stroke (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Cross section of a component having a longitudinal embossment to improve stiffness locally.1
Energy requirements increase with punch displacement, as shown in Figure 2, here energy curves are shown for Mild, HSLA 250/350, and DP 350/600 steels. The three dots indicate the start of the embossment formation at a punch depth of 85 mm.
Figure 2: Computerized analysis showing the increase in energy needed to form the component with different steel grades. Forming the embossment begins at 85 mm of punch travel.1
The last increment of punch travel to 98 mm requires significantly higher energy, as shown in Figure 3. Throughout the punch travel however, the two higher strength steels appear to maintain a constant proportional increase over the Mild steel.
Figure 3: A further increase in energy is required to finish embossing.1
Setting Draw Beads
A considerable force is required to set draw beads in AHSS before part formation begins. A nitrogen die cushion may be inadequate to fully set the beads, resulting in insufficient restraining force. Binder separation may occur, resulting in a loss of control for the stamping process and excessive wrinkling of the part or addendum. Based on part geometry, the high impact load on the cushion may occur several inches from the bottom of the press stroke. Since the impact point in the stroke is both a higher velocity point and now at a de-rated press tonnage, shock loads develop and can cause damage to mechanical presses. Additional flywheel energy is dissipated by the high shock loads well above bottom dead center of the stroke. Staggering the heights of the nitrogen cylinders so they do not all engage at the same time is one way to reduce the shock load (see Figure 4).
Figure 4: Staggered nitrogen cylinders designed to reduce the initial shock load when setting draw beads by engaging at different depths in the press stroke. 2
A double-action press will set the draw beads when the outer slide approaches bottom dead center, where the full tonnage rating is available and where the slide velocity is substantially lower. This minimizes any shock loads on die and press with resultant load spikes less likely to exceed the rated press capacity.
1 G. Hartmann, “Das Spektrum Moderner Stahlfeinbleche-Festigkeiten und Auswirkungen auf die Umformung” Verschleißschutztechnik, Schopfheim, Germany (2004).
2 Courtesy of Peter J. Mooney, Managing Director, 3S Superior Stamping Solutions LLC
Header Image: Courtesy of Komatsu