In static or dynamic conditions, the spot weld strength of Advanced High-Strength Steels (AHSS) may be considered as a limiting factor. One solution to improve resistance spot weld strength is to add a high-strength adhesive to the weld. Figure 1 illustrates the strength improvement obtained in static conditions when crash adhesive (in this case, Betamate 1496 from Dow Automotive) is added. The trials were performed with 45-mm-wide and 16-mm adhesive bead samples.
Figure 1: Tensile Shear Strength and Cross Tensile Strength on DP 600.1
Another approach to improve the strength of welds is done by using laser welding instead of spot welding. Compared to spot welding, the main advantage of laser welding, with respect to the mechanical properties of the joint, is the possibility to adjust the weld dimension to the requirement. One may assume that, in tensile shear conditions, the weld strength depends linearly on the weld length as indicated in the results of a trial 1, shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Tensile-shear strength on laser weld stitches of different length.1
However, a comparison of spot weld to laser weld strength cannot be restricted to the basic tensile shear test. Tests were also conducted to evaluate the weld strength in both quasi-static and dynamic conditions under different solicitations, on various AHSS combinations. The trials were performed on a high-speed testing machine, at 5 mm/min for the quasi-static tests and 0.5 m/s for the dynamic tests (pure shear, pure tear or mixed solicitation, as shown in Figure 3). The strength at failure and the energy absorbed during the trial were measured. Laser stitches were done at 27mm length. C- and S-shape welds were performed with the same overall weld length.
Figure 3: Sample geometry for quasi-static and dynamic tests.1
The weld strength at failure is described in Figure 4, where major axes represent pure shear and tear (Figure 4). For a reference spot weld corresponding to the upper limit of the weldability range, globally similar weld properties can be obtained with 27mm laser welds. The spot weld equivalent length of 25-30 mm has been confirmed on other test cases on AHSS in the 1.5- to 2 mm thickness range. It has also been noticed that the spot weld equivalent length is shorter on thin mild steel (approximately 15-20 mm). This must be considered when shifting from spot to laser welding on a given structure. There is no major strain rate influence on the weld strength; the same order of magnitude is obtained in quasi-static and dynamic conditions.
Figure 4: Quasi-static and dynamic strength of welds, DP 600 2 mm+1.5 mm.1
The results in terms of energy absorbed by the sample are seen in Figure 5. In tearing conditions, both the strength at fracture and energy are lower for the spot weld than for the various laser welding procedures. In shear conditions, the strength at fracture is equivalent for all the welding processes. However, the energy absorption is more favorable to spot welds. This is due to the different fracture modes of the welds; for example, interfacial fracture is observed on the laser welds under shearing solicitation. Even if the strength at failure is as high as for the spot welds, this severe failure mode leads to lower total energy absorption.
Figure 5: Strength at fracture and energy absorption of Hot Rolled 1500 1.8-mm + DP 600 1.5-mm samples for various welding conditions.1
Figure 6 represents the energy absorbed by omega-shaped structures and the corresponding number of welds that fail during the frontal crash test (here on TRIP 800 grade). It appears clearly that laser stitches have the highest rate of fracture during the crash test (33%). In standard spot welding, some weld fractures also occur. It is known that AHSS are more prone to partial interfacial fracture on coupons, and some welds fail as well during crash tests. By using either Weld-Bonding or adapted laser welding shapes, weld fractures are mitigated, even in the case of severe deformation. As a consequence, higher energy absorption is also observed.
Figure 6: Welding process and weld shape influence on the energy absorption
and weld integrity on frontal crash tests. 1
Up to a 20% improvement can be achieved in torsional stiffness, where the best results reflected the combination of laser welds and adhesives. Adhesive bonding and weld- bonding lead to the same stiffness improvement results due to the adhesive rather than the additional welds. Figure 7 shows the evolution of the torsional stiffness with the joining process. Optimized laser joining design leads to the same performances as a weld bonded sample in fracture modes, shown in Figure 8.
Figure 7: Evolution of the torsional stiffness with the joining process.1
Figure 8: Validation test case 1.2-mmTRIP 800/1.2-mm hat-shaped TRIP 800.
Top-hat crash boxes were tested across a range of AHSS materials including DP 1000. The spot weld’s energy absorption increased linearly with increasing material strength. The adhesives were not suitable for crash applications as the adhesive peels open along the entire length of the joint. The weld bonded samples perform much better than conventional spot welds. Across the entire range of materials there was a 20-30% increase in mean force when weld bonding was used; the implications suggesting a similarly significant improvement in crash performance. Furthermore, results show that a 600 MPa weld bonded steel can achieve the same crash performance as a 1000 MPa spot-welded steel. It is also possible that some down gauging of materials could be achieved, but as the strength of the crash structure is highly dependent upon sheet thickness, only small gauge reductions would be possible. Figure 9 shows the crash results for spot-welded and weld bonded AHSS.
Figure 9: Crash results for spot-welded and weld bonded AHSS.
1 Courtesy of ArcelorMittal.
Many steel parts on a vehicle require corrosion protection, regardless of whether they are exposed or unexposed applications. The most common way to accomplish corrosion protection is to coat Advanced High-Strength Steels (AHSS) with zinc by means of a couple of different processes. This AHSS Insights Blog goes over the most common.
Electrogalvanizing is a zinc deposition process, where the zinc is electrolytically bonded to steel in order to protect against corrosion. The process involves electroplating: running an electrical current through the steel strip as it passes through a saline/zinc solution. Electrogalvanizing is done at room temperature, so the microstructure, mechanical, and physical properties of AHSS products achieved on a continuous anneal line (CAL) are essentially unchanged after the electrogalvanizing (EG) process. EG lines have multiple plating cells, with each cell capable of being on or off. As a result, chief advantages of electrogalvanizing compared to hot dipped galvanizing include: (1) lower processing temperatures, (2) precise coating weight control, and (3) brighter, more uniform coatings which are easier to convert to Class A exposed quality painted surfaces.
The majority of electrogalvanizing lines can apply only pure (free) zinc coatings, known as EG for electrogalvanized steel. Selected lines can apply different types of coatings, like EGA (electro-galvanneal) or Zn-Ni (zinc-nickel).
There are no concerns about different alloy phases in the coating as with galvanneal coatings. The lack of aluminum in the coating results in improved weldability. The biggest concern with electrogalvanizing lines is the coefficient of friction. Electrogalvanized (EG) coatings have a relatively high coefficient of friction—higher than hot dipped galvanized coatings, but lower than galvanneal coatings. To improve formability of electrogalvanized sheets, some automakers choose to use a steel mill-applied pre-lube rather than a simple mill-applied rust preventive oil.
A representative EG line is shown in Figure 1. Different EG lines may use different technologies to apply the zinc crystals. Because the zinc crystals are deposited in a different fashion, these different processes may potentially result in different surface morphology and, in turn, a different coefficient of friction.
Figure 1: Schematic of an electrogalvanizing line.
A higher coefficient of friction may be found under dry conditions, but the “stacked plate-like surface morphology” (Figure 2) allows these coatings to trap and hold lubrication better than the smoother surfaces of hot dipped galvanizing coatings. Auto manufacturers should therefore consult the steel supplier for specific lubricant recommendations based on the forming needs.
Figure 2: High magnification photograph of electrogalvanized steel surface showing stacked plate-like structure.
Hot Dip Galvanize and Hot Dip Galvanneal
Hot dipped galvanizing – applying a zinc coating over the steel – is the most common way to achieve corrosion protection. It is an economical solution, since cold rolled steel can be annealed and coated in the same continuous operation.
A typical in-line continuous hot dip galvanizing line such as that shown in Figure 3 uses a full-hard cold rolled steel coil as the feedstock. Individual coils are welded together to produce a continuous strip. After cleaning, the strip is processed in a continuous annealing furnace where the microstructure is recrystallized, improving forming characteristics. The annealing temperature is adjusted to produce the desired microstructure associated with the ordered grade. Rather than cooling to room temperature, the in-process coil is cooled to just above 460°C (860°F), the temperature of the molten zinc bath it enters. The chemistry in the zinc pot is a function of whether a hot dipped galvanized or galvannealed coating is ordered. Hot rolled steels also are coated with the hot dip galvanizing process, but different processing conditions are used to achieve the targeted properties.
Figure 3: Schematic of a typical hot dipped galvanizing line with galvanneal capability.
There are several types of hot dipped coatings for automotive applications, with unique characteristics that affect their corrosion protection, lubricity for forming, weldability and paintability. One of the primary hot dipped galvanized coatings is a pure zinc coating (abbreviated as GI), sometime referred to as free zinc. The molten zinc bath has small amounts of aluminum which helps to form a thin Fe2Al5 layer at the zinc-steel interface. This thin barrier layer prevents zinc from diffusing into the base steel, which leaves the coating as essentially pure zinc.
Coil pass through the molten zinc at speeds up to 3 meters per second. Zinc coating weight is controlled by gas knives (typically air or nitrogen) blowing off excess liquid zinc as the coil emerges from the bath. Zinc remaining on the surface solidifies into crystals called spangle. Molten zinc chemistry and cooling practices used at the galvanizing line control spangle size. Since spangle can show through on a painted surface, a minimum-spangle or no-spangle option is appropriate for surface-critical applications.
The other primary hot dipped coating used for corrosion protection is hot dipped galvanneal (abbreviated as GA). Applying this coating to a steel coil involves the same steps as creating a free zinc hot dipped coated steel, but after exiting the zinc pot, the steel strip passes through a galvannealing furnace where the zinc coating is reheated while still molten.
The molten zinc bath used to produce a GA coating has a lower aluminum content than what is used to produce a GI coating. Without aluminum to create the barrier layer, the zinc coating and the base steel inter-diffuse freely, creating an iron-zinc alloy with typical average iron content in the 8-12% range. The iron content improves weldability, which is a key attribute of the galvanneal coatings.
The iron content will be unevenly distributed throughout the coating, ranging from 5% at the surface (where the sheet metal coating contacts the tool surface during forming) to as much as 25% iron content at the steel/coating interface. The amount of iron at the surface and distribution within the coating is a function of galvannealing parameters and practices – primarily the bath composition and time spent at the galvannealing temperature. Coating iron content impacts coating hardness, which affects the interaction with the sheet forming lubricant and tools, and results in changes in friction. The hard GA coatings have a greater powdering tendency during contact with tooling surfaces, especially during movement through draw beads. Powdering is minimized by using thinner coatings – where 50 g/m2 to 60 g/m2 (50G to 60G) is a typical EG and GI coating weight, GA coatings are more commonly between 30 g/m2 to 45 g/m2 (30A to 45A).
Figure 4: High magnification photograph of a galvannealed steel surface. The surface structure results in excellent paint adhesion.
Options to improve formability on parts made from GA coated steels include use of press-applied lubricants or products that can be applied at the steel mill after galvanizing, like roll-coated phosphate, which have the additional benefit of added lubricity. The surface morphology of a galvannealed surface (Figure 4) promotes good phosphate adherence, which in turn is favorable for paintability.
Galvannealed coatings provide excellent corrosion protection to the underlying steel, as do GI and EG coatings. GI and EG coatings are essentially pure zinc. Zinc acts as a sacrificial anode if either coating is damaged from scratches or impact, and therefore will corrode first before the underlying steel. The corrosion product of GI and EG is white and is a combination of zinc carbonate and zinc hydroxide. A similar mechanism protects GA coated steels, but the presence of iron in the coating may result in a reddish tinge to the corrosion product. This should not be interpreted as an indication of corrosion of the steel substrate.
Producing galvanized and galvannealed AHSS is challenging due to the interactions of the necessary thermal cycles at each step. As an example, the targeted microstructure of Dual Phase steels can be achieved by varying the temperature and time the steel strip passes through the zinc bath and can be adjusted to achieve the targeted strength level. However, not all AHSS can attain their microstructure with the thermal profile of a conventional hot dipped galvanizing line with limited rapid quenching capabilities. In addition, many AHSS grades have chemistries that lead to increased surface oxides, preventing good zinc adhesion to the surface. These grades must be produced on a stand-alone Continuous Annealing Line, or CAL, without an in-line zinc pot. Continuous Annealing Lines feature a furnace with variable and rapid quenching operations that enable the thermal processing required to achieve very high-strength levels. If corrosion protection is required, these steel grades are coated on an electrogalvanizing line (EG) in a separate operation, after being processed on a CAL line.
Hot dipped galvanizing lines at different steel companies have similar processes that result in similar surfaces with respect to coefficient of friction. Surface finish and texture (and resultant frictional characteristics) are primarily due to work roll textures, based on the customer specification. Converting from one coating line to another using the same specification is usually not of major significance with respect to coefficient of friction. A more significant change in friction is observed with changes between GI and GA and EG.
In the 2nd Quarter 2020, we’ll release the results of a three-year study on Liquid Metal Embrittlement in resistance spot welding. It will shed light on why LME occurs, how its occurrence can be controlled, and practical preventative measures to avoid LME on the manufacturing line. Stay tuned.
In this edition of AHSS Insights, George Coates and Menachem Kimchi get back to basics with important fundamentals in forming and joining AHSS.
As the global steel industry continues its development of Advanced High-Strength Steels (AHSS), including 3rd Gen products with enhanced formability, we’re reminded that successful application is still dependent on the fundamentals, both in forming and joining. In this blog article, we address some of those forming considerations, as well as highlighting common joining issues in manufacturing.
The somewhat lower formability of AHSS compared to mild steels can almost always be compensated for by modifying the design of the component and optimizing blank shape and the forming process.
In stamping plants, we’ve observed inconsistent practices in die set-up and maintenance, surface treatments and lubrication application. Some of these inconsistencies can be addressed through education, via training programs on AHSS Application Guidelines. These Guidelines share best practices and lessons learned to inform new users on different behaviors of specific AHSS products, and the necessary modifications to assist their application success. In addition to new practices, we’ve learned that applying process control fundamentals become more critical as one transitions from mild steels to AHSS, because the forming windows are smaller and less forgiving, meaning these processes don’t tolerate variation well. If your present die shop is reflective of housekeeping issues, such as oil and die scrap on the floor or die beds, you are a candidate for a shop floor renovation or you will struggle forming AHSS products.
Each stamping operation combines three main elements to achieve a part meeting its desired functional requirements:
- the steel product,
- appropriate die materials, including their surface treatment, and
- the correct lubricant that maintains its lubricity during the forming operation.
There is good news, in that our industry is responding with new products and services to improve manufacturing performance and save costs.
As an example, lubrication application is often overlooked, and old systems may be ineffective. In the forming of AHSS, part temperatures can become excessive, and break down lubricant performance. Figure 1 shows an example of part temperatures from an Ohio State University study conducted with DP 980 steels1.
Figure 1: Example Temperature distribution for DP 980 Steel1.
Stampers often respond by “flooding” the process with extra lubricant, thinking this will solve their problem. Instead, lubricant viscosity and high temperature stability are the most important considerations in the lubricant selection, and new types exist to meet these challenges. Also, today there are new lubrication controllers that can finely control and disperse wet lubricants evenly across the steel strip, or in very specific locations, if forming requirements are localized. These enable better performance while minimizing lubricant waste (saving cost), a win-win for the pressroom.
Similarly, AHSS places higher demands on tool steels used in forming and cutting operations. In forming applications, galling, adhesive wear and plastic deformation are the most common failure mechanisms. Surface treatments such as PVD, CVD and TD coatings applied to the forming tool are effective at preventing galling. Selection of the tool steel and coating process used for forming AHSS will largely depend on the:
- Strength and thickness of the AHSS product,
- Steel coating,
- Complexity of the forming process, and
- Number of parts to be produced.
New die materials such as “enhanced D2” are available from many suppliers. These improve the balance between toughness, hardness and wear resistance for longer life. These materials can be thru-hardened, and thus become an excellent base material for PVD or secondary surface treatments necessary in the AHSS processing. And new tool steels have been developed specifically for hot forming applications.
In high-volume production different Resistance Spot Welding (RSW) process parameters can be used depending on the application and the specifications applied. Assuming you chose the appropriate welding parameters that allows for a large process window, manufacturing variables may ruin your operation as they strongly effect the RSW weld quality and performance.
One of the great advantages of the RSW process is the action of clamping the material together via the electrode force applied during the process. However due to the pre-welding condition/processing such as the stamping operation, this fit-up issue, as shown in Figure 2, can be very significant especially in welding an AHSS product. In this case the effective required force specified during the process setup for the application is significantly reduced and can result in an unacceptable weld, over-heating, and severe metal expulsion. If the steels are coated, higher probability for Liquid Metal Embrittlement (LME) cracking is possible.
Figure 2: Examples of Pre-Welding Condition/Processing Fit-Up Issues
For welding AHSS, higher forces are generally required as a large part of the force is being used to force the parts together in addition to the force required for welding. Also, welding parameters may be set for pre-heating with lower current pulses or current up-slope to soften the material for easier material forming and to close the gap.
During machine set up, the RSW electrodes need to be carefully aligned as shown in Figure 3A. However, in many production applications, electrode misalignment is a common problem.
Electrode misalignment in the configurations shown in Figure 3B may be detrimental to weld quality of any RSW application. Of course, the electrode misalignment shown in this figure is exaggerated but the point is that it happens frequently on manufacturing welding lines.
Figure 3: Alignment vs. Misalignment of Electrodes
In these cases, the intendent contact between the electrodes is not achieved and thus the current density and the force density (pressure) required for producing an acceptable weld cannot be achieved. With such conditions, overheating, expulsion, sub-size welds and extensive electrode wear will result. Again, if coated steels are involved, the probability for LME cracking is higher.
Note also that following specifications or recommendations for water cooling the electrode is always important for process stability and extending electrode life.
Figure 4: Sequence of Squeeze Time and Welding Current Initiation
The squeeze time is the time required for the force to reach the level needed for the specific application. Welding current should be applied only after reaching this force, as indicated in Figure 4. All RSW controllers enable the easy control of squeeze time, just as with the weld time, for example. In many production operations, a squeeze time is used that is too low due to lack of understanding of its function. If squeeze time is too low, high variability in weld quality in addition to severe expulsion will be the result.
The squeeze time required for an application depends on the machine type and characteristics (not an actual welding parameter such as weld time or welding current for example).
Some of the more modern force gauges have the capability to produce the curve shown in the Figure so adequate squeeze time will be used. If you do not know what the required squeeze time for your machine/application is, it is recommended to use a longer time.
For more on these topics, download the free AHSS Application Guidelines and/or browse the related blog topics in the menu at the right.
Source: 1 Courtesy of Ohio State University
Technical Director, WorldAutoSteel and
The Phoenix Group
Since 1991, George has been providing engineering and consulting services for industry leaders in the steel, automotive, and manufacturing industries. George’s areas of expertise include: management and strategic consulting, project management, metal processing and stamping throughput improvement, metal formability and reference panel systems, and new vehicle launch manufacturing support. George is an active contributor to WorldAutoSteel technical programs, including project director / instructor for AHSS Application Guidelines.
Associate Professor, Dept of Materials Science, Ohio State University
Technical Editor, AHSS Application Guidelines
Menachem Kimchi is a associate professor in the Department of Material Science & Engineering, Welding Engineering Program at The Ohio State University. Previously, M. Kimchi was a principal research engineer, technology leader, and business development manager for EWI Manufacturing. Menachem has been involved extensively with development projects for the Automotive and Steel industries and published over 100 technical papers in area of Resistance and Solid State Welding processes of advanced materials. He currently serves as the Joining Technical Editor on the AHSS Application Guidelines.
Happy New Year! We are pleased to provide this contribution by Dr. Daniel Schaeffler, President, Engineering Quality Solutions, Inc. and Technical Editor, AHSS Applications Guidelines.
Forty years ago, the metal forming community needed to figure out how to stamp a new exotic family of steels making inroads into automotive body construction. These grades, called High Strength Low Alloy steels, were much stronger than the commonplace mild steels, and were more formable than the high-strength options available at that time. Initially, only a few steelmakers were able to offer these new grades, but over time more companies added the equipment and know-how necessary to support their customers with these products. Automakers and their supply chain stampers needed to adapt as an increasing number of parts transitioned to HSLA steels.
Fast-forward a few decades, and metal formers are facing similar challenges. Successful forming and joining of Advanced High-Strength Steels is made easier with processes that are tuned to work with the characteristics associated with these alloys. One such technique to improve formability is to employ Active Binder Force Control.
In conventional stamping, a draw ring applies pressure around the binder in order to control the sheet metal flow into the cavity. The ring may be referred to as a binder plate, draw pad, pressure pad, or blank holder. Creating the restraining force typically is done with urethane springs, coil springs, gas springs (like air or nitrogen), or press cushion systems actuated by gas or hydraulic cylinders.
Where the traditional approach applies binder pressure uniformly throughout the press stroke, modern stamping presses can be equipped with cushions having multipoint-control systems (see Figure 1 example). The associated pressure profile can be adjusted around the panel and throughout the stroke to optimize metal flow, prevent splits and wrinkles, and minimize thinning.
Figure 1. An Example of Multi-Point Press Forming Method1
Incorporating Active Binder Control capabilities has several benefits for the press shop, panel quality, and product design, including:
- A segmented blankholder combined with individually programmable hydraulic cylinders, sometimes called a flexible binder, allows for precise control of one segment independent of the others.
- Pulsating blank holder force has been shown to reduce press tonnage requirements and increase metal flow, with the frequency and amplitude being key variables that must be adjusted based on the grade and thickness of interest.
- Pre-acceleration of the cushion reduces shock loading, which minimizes the press-damaging snap-through loads associated with reverse tonnage.
The merits of a variable blank holder force on AHSS springback were documented in a 2004 conference paper2. With the traditional constant binder force approach, springback in the form of side-wall curl was seen in parts made from either a DP590 grade or a mild steel grade used as a control. Increasing the constant binder force helped to reduce springback in the mild steel part.
In Figure 2, CBF reflects tests conducted with constant binder force. VBF-LH and VBF-MLH reflect variable binder force tests conducted with a low-high force profile sequence and a medium-low-high force profile, respectively.
Figure 2: Variable Binder Force Reduces Springback2
By employing a variable binder force, springback of both the mild steel and the DP 590 material was substantially reduced. Employing either variable binder force approach reduced the thinning from forming the DP 590 material, resulting in a more uniform strain distribution across the entire channel profile (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Uniform Strain Distribution Achieved with Variable Binder Force2
More recently, a presentation from 2018 showed CP 800 panel quality improvements associated with variable blank holder force capabilities3. Panel results from a constant binder force of 300 kN and 400 kN are shown in Figures 4 and 5, respectively. Both exhibit severe wrinkling in the flange. Applying 500 kN binder force was not feasible due to exceeding the press tonnage curve limits throughout the stroke.
Figure 4: CP800 Panel Formed with Constant Binder Force of 300 kN, and Associated Close-Up of Flange3
Figure 5: CP800 Panel Formed with Constant Binder Force of 400 kN, and Associated Close-Up of Flange3
Figure 6 shows the panel produced with a variable binder force. The chosen profile fit within the press tonnage requirements and minimized wrinkles.
Figure 6: CP800 Panel Formed with Variable Binder Force Ramping from 300 kN to 600 kN, and Associated Close-Up of Flange3
Active drawbead control is an offshoot of these techniques, allowing for the magnitude and timing of drawbead engagement to be optimized for the requirements of each part. A description of using stake beads to minimize springback is available in a previous AHSS Insights blog here – active drawbead control is one approach to actuate beads.
The initial laboratory studies relating to active binder force control go back nearly 20 years ago. In the coming years, more information will enter the public domain on how metal formers are using these concepts in production. When you look to purchase a servo press, be sure to ask your press manufacturer about programmable cushions.
Daniel J. Schaeffler, Ph.D., President, Engineering Quality Solutions, Inc.;
Chief Content Officer, 4M Partners, LLC
Danny Schaeffler is the Metallurgy and Forming Technical Editor of the next release of the AHSS Applications Guidelines available from WorldAutoSteel. Danny is co-founder of 4M Partners, LLC and founder and President of Engineering Quality Solutions (EQS). He has written for Stamping Journal and The Fabricator. Danny writes the monthly “Science of Forming” column for Metalforming Magazine. He is passionate about training the metal stamping community on sheet formability and how to make the best use out of their chosen sheet metal grades.
1 Flexible Tooling For Manufacturing 3d Panels Using Multi-Point Forming Methodology – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate.
2 Variable Binder Force for Springback Management, M. Milititsky (University of Ghent), M. Garnett, C. Du, J. Wu, L. Zhang, P.J. Belanger, J.M. Prencipe (DaimlerChrysler Corporation), and E.D. Bishop (Engineering Quality Solutions, Inc.). International Conference on Advanced High-Strength Sheet Steels for Automotive Applications Proceedings, June 6-9, 2004, Association for Iron & Steel Technology
3 Improving the Drawing Process of AHSS by Using Servo Press Technologies, David Diaz-Infante (Ohio State University), 2018 Great Designs in Steel Seminar, AISI
Article contributed by Harry Singh, Senior Product Applications Engineer, United States Steel Corporation.
Several recent studies are forecasting that; “Within the next 10 to 15 years, urban transportation will be dominated by Electric and Automated vehicles”.1 Meaning most of us will be driving Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) in the not-distant future. In 2011, just eight years ago, there were only three BEVs on the market with 70 to 80 miles range on a single charge. These were the first generation BEVs. Since then, the number of EVs on the market has increased, with significant improvements in range (now approaching 300 miles). BEV 2020 vehicles cover all current segments, from small cars to SUV’s and trucks (Figure 1). These vehicles will be available from most OEMs as well as several new start-up companies. The construction material for body structures of these vehicles is predominantly steel, while some of the premium vehicles ($60,000 to $100,000) are aluminium. And the prevailing OEM message seems to be “anything TESLA can do, we can do better”.
So how will this change the vehicle body structure design, choice of construction material, its implications for manufacturing and assembly, and ultimately, the impact on automotive steel?
Figure 1: Electric Vehicle Boom – Models by Style and Range Available Through 20201 CHART SUMMARY: a) Covers all current segments, b) Structures predominantly Steel, c)Some premium vehicles highlight Aluminium, d)Products from most OEMs as well as several new start-up companies.
The driver for this electrification boom is increasing affordability. The upfront cost of BEVs will become competitive on an unsubsidized basis starting in 20242. By 2030 in the U.S., almost all light duty vehicle segments will reach cost parity as battery prices continue to fall3. Forecasters, such as McKinsey, Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg, predict that about half of all new vehicle production will be electric somewhere between 2035 and 2040. However, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk’s prediction is much more aggressive. He expects more than half of new vehicles in the U.S. will be electric within the next 10 years, roughly 10 to 15 years ahead of most other predictions.
The Main Drivers of BEV Cost Reduction
- Lithium-ion battery prices have fallen 75% since 2013, hitting $176/kWh in 2018 (Figure 2). Industry-wide prices fell due to the adoption of new cell designs and the availability of higher energy-density cathodes. Prices are expected to drop further in coming years to below $100 per kWh. Besides the reduction in cost, packaging efficiency and the cell energy density also is improving.
- Package space required by other BEV powertrain systems also is being optimized, e.g., motor, transmission, differential and power electronics. This is yielding significant weight and cost reductions, which are then directly reinvested into lower-cost structural materials, such as Advanced High-Strength Steels (AHSS) versus higher cost Aluminium, to keep the overall price of the vehicle low.
Figure 2: BEV Price Parity with Gas-powered Cars by 2024 – Main Drivers4
BEV to ICE Vehicle Structural Differences and Advantages for Steel
Figure 3: BEV to ICE Vehicle Structural Differences5
BEV packaging differences compared with ICE Vehicles are shown in Figure 3, and include:
- Narrower and compact transverse electric powertrains, leading to shorter front end, with increased occupant space for same size vehicle and larger/efficient front crash rails.
- Lack of an exhaust system eliminates the need for the tunnel, allowing straighter/ efficient cross-members.
- No fuel tank/filler leads to more efficient rear rail load path.
- High voltage electric powertrain and large (300 litres, 500 kg) under-floor battery pack crash protection requirements result in higher safety requirements for BEV front and side structures.
- Safety. The BEV body structure load path requirements are ideal for AHSS application. The floor cross members, without the presence of the tunnel, are straight and can use very high-strength martensitic roll formed sections. Cross members can be stamped from 3rd Generation Steels offering Giga-Pascal strength and over 20% elongation. For frontal crash load management and to minimize passenger/battery compartment intrusions for increased safety, 3rd Generation steels offer the most mass/cost efficient solution. The very high strengths offered by AHSS and UHSS for the safety-critical structural members such as the rocker, rails, cross members and pillars, greatly enhance the required protection of the BEV powertrain and high energy/voltage battery systems. The battery enclosure construction greatly benefits from AHSS usage, providing protection from road-debris impacts from below the vehicle, along with fire protection into the passenger compartment. Advanced steels also enable reduced section sizes for the occupant compartment, required for improved panoramic visibility, without compromising occupant safety and comfort.
- Cost. For widespread adoption of BEVs to occur, the overall cost of the vehicle must be affordable, and its range must be above the ‘range anxiety limit’ of most drivers. Various surveys indicate this range to vary greatly from 75 miles to over 400 miles. Using steel for the vehicle structure leads to the lowest cost BEV, just as with ICE-based vehicles. The vehicle range can be increased through lightweighting and/or by increasing the size of the battery; a cost comparison of these two options is shown in Figure 4. With battery cost reduction approaching $100 per kWh, lightweighting is cost effective at approximately US$2.00 per kg saved. Lightweighting is still very important and the latest steel grades, in particular 3rd Generation steels, offer the most cost-effective lightweighting option. In comparison, if we consider lightweighting with aluminium, the cost is typically in the order of US$6.00 per kg saved. This could be cost effective if the battery cost is over $250 per kWh, which was the case a decade ago. We can see the evidence of this in OEM decisions at that time. For example, the 2011 Nissan Leaf BEV closures were aluminium; but the latest 2019 Nissan leaf BEV closures are steel.
Figure 4: BEV Range Increase – Lightweighting Cost versus Battery Cost 2020 – 2022
Battery Electric Vehicles – Boom or Bust for AHSS?
For the increased safety required for BEVs to protect the high voltage systems, the structural load paths are ideally suited for the Giga Pascal level strengths offered by AHSS and UHSS. The Battery Enclosure structure offer an additional 85 kg per vehicle opportunity, an increase of approximately 10% sheet metal over ICE vehicles. Also, using advanced steels the BEV structure can take full advantage of well-established body shop practices for manufacturing and assembly, such as stamping, roll forming and spot welding. With future increased focus on BEV affordability, safety and sustainability, steel offers the best solutions and flexibility to address these key challenges.
Harry Singh is Senior Product Application Engineer at United States Steel Corporation. He is responsible for developing technical solutions for automotive applications utilizing the U.S. Steel Advanced High-Strength Steel portfolio.
Prior to joining U.S. Steel, Harry had spent 10 years at EDAG, Inc. as Director of Lightweighting, working on vehicle design and engineering programs. Major achievements at EDAG was management the FutureSteelVehicle program for WorldAutoSteel, with full engineering, reporting and commercial responsibilities. Harry was Principal Investigator of several vehicle lightweighting studies for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to support the mid-term review and 2025 CAFE requirements.
1 Source: Bloomberg NEF
2 Report: Choosing the Electric Avenue – Unlocking Savings, Emissions Reductions, and Community Benefits of Electric Vehicles, John Farrell, 7 JUN 2017
3 Tyson, Madeline, Charlie Bloch. Breakthrough Batteries: Powering the Era of Clean Electrification. Rocky Mountain Institute, 2019.
4 2019 Sustainable Energy in America – Factbook, Bloomberg Finance L.P. 2019 and The Business Council for Sustainable Energy (Page 128)
5 Source of Images and inspiration: Don E. Malen: Mass Benchmarking Analysis of Electric Vehicles, A2Mac1, WorldAutoSteel
We once again welcome Max Biegler, Research Associate, Fraunhofer IPK, in this follow up article on Modelling Resistance Spot Welding.
Modern car bodies today are made of increasing volumes of Advanced High-Strength Steels (AHSS), the superb performance of which facilitates lightweighting concepts (see Figure 1). In order to join the different parts of a car body and create the crash structure, the components are usually welded to achieve a reliable connection. The most prominent welding process in automotive production is resistance spot welding. It is known for its great robustness, and easily applicable in fully automated production lines.
Figure 1: AHSS Content In Modern Car Body (FutureSteelVehicle ©WorldAutoSteel)
There are, however, challenges to be met to guarantee a high-quality joint when the boundary conditions change, for example, when new material grades are introduced. Interaction of a liquefied zinc coating and a steel substrate can lead to small surface cracks during resistance spot welding of current AHSS, as shown in Figure 2. This so-called liquid metal embrittlement (LME) cracking is mainly governed by grain boundary penetration with zinc, and tensile stresses. The latter may be induced by various sources during the manufacturing process, especially under ‘rough’ industrial conditions. But currently, there is a lack of knowledge, regarding what is ‘rough’, and what conditions may still be tolerable.
Figure 2: Top View of LME-Afflicted Spot Weld
The material-specific amount of tensile stresses necessary for LME enforcement can be determined by the experimental procedure ‘welding under external load’. The idea of this method, which is commonly used for comparing cracking susceptibilities of different materials to each other, is to apply increasing levels of tensile stresses to a sample during the welding process and monitor the reaction. Figure 3 shows the corresponding experimental setup.
Figure 3: Welding under external load setup (©LWF)
However, the known externally applied stresses are not exclusively responsible for LME, but also the welding process itself, which puts both thermally and mechanically induced stresses/strains on the sample. Here, the conventional measuring techniques fail. A numerical reproduction of the experiment grants access to the temperature, stress and strain fields present during the procedure, providing insights on the formation of LME. The electro-thermomechanical simulation model is described in detail in my previous blog post. It is used to simulate the welding under external load procedure (see Figure 4).
Figure 4: Simulation Model of Welding Under External Load
The videos that can be found in the link above show the corresponding temperature and plastic strain fields. As heat dissipates quickly through the water-cooled electrode, a temperature gradient towards the adjacent areas and a local temperature maximum on the surface forms. The plastic strains accumulate mainly at the electrode indentation area. The simulated strain field shows a local maximum of plastic deformation at the left edge of the electrode indentation, amplified by the externally applied stresses and the boundary conditions implied by the procedure. This area correlates with experimentally observed LME cracking sites and paths as shown in Figure 5.
The simulation shows that significant plastic strains are present during welding. When external stresses (in reality e.g. due to poor part fit-up or distorted parts) contribute to the already high load, LME cracking becomes more likely. The numerical simulation model facilitates the determination of material-specific safety limits regarding LME cracking. Parameter variations and their effects on the LME susceptibility can easily be investigated by use of the model, enabling the user to develop strict processing protocols to reduce the likelihood of LME. Finally, these experimental procedures can be adapted to other high-strength materials, to aid their application understanding and industrial set-up conditions.
Figure 5: LME Cracks in Cross Section View at Highly Strained Locations
Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology IPKMax Biegler (M.Sc.) finished his studies in mechanical engineering at Technical University of Munich in 2015. He is currently working as a research associate at Fraunhofer IPK in Berlin with focus on numerical modelling of welding processes.