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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Previous projects > Industrial Processes > Laser-hardened car parts clear the air
Graphic element Laser-hardened car parts clear the air
The primary objective of any European institution must be to protect Europe and its interests and that includes the environment. In the case of air pollution, numerous initiatives have sought to limit and regulate industrial emissions, but much of the air pollution seen in our cities is caused not by factories but by automobiles. A European research project has developed revolutionary lightweight automobile parts, including a hollow camshaft and new aluminium brake disks. The new elements have laser-hardened surfaces, making them as strong as or stronger than conventional cast-iron parts, and their reduced weight means lower fuel consumption and emissions. Partners believe the potential market for light automobile parts is enormous. European SMEs in the metal-coating and machining sectors can carry out the laser-hardening treatment.

Much of the fuel consumed by the ever-increasing number of cars, buses and lorries on our roads goes to moving the vehicles themselves and not the people and goods inside them. Lighter engines, chassis and other parts would mean a reduction in fuel consumption, but many of these components must be extremely hard and solid, making the use of lighter materials unfeasible or even dangerous.

Breaking new ground

The idea behind the project started at Adam Opel in Germany, where designers were looking for ways to reduce weight in automobile components. The limiting factors of lightweight materials include hardness and strength. But new coating technologies do exist for rendering surfaces harder than the underlying substrate. With a sufficiently hard surface, automobile parts might not need to be solid throughout.
With these considerations in mind, partners set out to design and produce a revolutionary hollow camshaft for automobile engines using rotary swaging, a technique whereby cold metal is pressure-formed into shape. The new camshaft is 50% lighter than conventional cast-iron camshafts, representing an equivalent saving in steel. Its surfaces are hardened using a completely new process involving spray application of a carbon coating which is then melted on with a laser beam. Processing time for a single cam is approximately 75 seconds for carbon spraying and 30 seconds for the laser treatment. The laser hardening process is extremely interesting for camshafts as conventional hardening techniques can result in significant distortions.
Then, new laser-hardened aluminium brake-disks were developed, 30 to 40% lighter than the conventional cast-iron disks. The extreme hardness, durability and lightness which have been achieved in these new components is no less than revolutionary.
Finally, one additional application was added in the machining sector. Techniques for applying high molybdenum-content layers to industrial extruder screws were developed, providing 60% better wear performance compared to similar plasma transferred arc (PTA) layers currently in use.

Motivated teamwork

Partners included seven German and Spanish companies. The impetus came from Adam Opel AG, in Germany, but other German groups contributed expertise in advanced rotary swaging techniques and glue spraying of carbon layers. The Fraunhofer Institut für Lasertechnik specialises in laser surface treatments and also provided project co-ordination. Spanish partners provided expertise in laser treatment and plasma spraying, and introduced the concept of a lightweight aluminium brake disk.
According to estimates, 180 million automobiles could be fitted out with hollow camshafts in Europe alone within just a few years of project completion, a market representing up to 80 million euro. A weight reduction of 50% or 3 kg for a 4-valve, 6-cylinder engine would mean a reduction in fuel consumption of 0.11itres/100 km. Total fuel savings for 90 million cars would reach 108 million euro/year. Furthermore, laser-beam treatments can be carried out by European SMEs in the metal-coating and machining sectors.

Ongoing development

Interest in the new production techniques is very high within the laser beam surface treatment and laser-related gas technologies industries for applications in a variety of industrial sectors. Further research and development efforts are necessary to improve quality. Schwäbische Hüttenwerke GmbH, another German partner, has installed a new high-pressure rotary swaging machine and is now developing a revised hollow camshaft based on the results of this project. Krauss Maffei Dienstleistung GmbH in Germany is following up on the work with extruder screw coatings and is applying the developed alloy to their screws. Partners cite the combination of technical expertise and concrete market interest as being instrumental in the project's success.

Cordis RCN: 6631
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