Tough legislation on carbon emissions is driving change across the automotive supply chain. As CO2 emissions fall by 8.5g per 100km for each 100kg lost, cutting weight remains a priority and replacing steel with lighter materials makes the most difference. However, the road towards light-weighting brings crucial materials analysis and quality control challenges.
There are three key technologies for metals analysis: laser induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS), optical emission spectroscopy (OES) and X-ray fluorescence (XRF). All three technologies are versatile, particularly when it comes to identifying metals composition and qualities.
With very exacting requirements for components, from the need to absorb energy on impact, to heat resistance and structural rigidity, aluminum and magnesium alloys have recently won favor in the automotive industry because they are light, relatively low cost and give many of the properties needed.
The automotive industry will make up a quarter of all aluminum consumption (30 million tons) by 2025 and the average car will contain almost 100kg of aluminum replacing heavier parts.
A new generation of alloys is emerging, which could become integral to various components, combining low density, strength, stiffness and damage tolerance. Lithium is added to improve strength, and phosphorus and sulphur to improve machineability, but these can have a detrimental effect on corrosion resistance so must be added in small amounts.
As aluminum is enhanced, technologies are developing to provide effective materials analysis and enable manufacturers to improve quality control. Analyzers should feature a high-performance spectrometer that enables the measurement of lithium in aluminum alloys and should be capable of measuring boron-aluminum alloys, which cannot be measured with any handheld XRF analyzer. The preferred choice is a handheld LIBS, whilst OES can identify Li in Al, down to 0.0005 percent, as well as boron, phosphorus and sulphur.
Lighter than aluminum, magnesium has the highest strength to weight ratio of all structural metals. Abundant and easily recyclable, it has replaced steel and aluminum in some components and is used extensively in alloys.
Although magnesium is brittle and does not have the creep resistance of aluminum, innovations could resolve that problem. Researchers can alter the microstructure of magnesium so it can be compressed at room temperature without cracking and can also improve its energy absorption and ductility.
For analysis of alloys to the ppm level, OES gives the most precise results. The new generation of OES analyzers are designed for fast, reliable and cost-effective analysis of all main alloying elements and identification of exceptionally low levels of tramp, trace and treatment elements.
The road ahead
The pace of industry innovation brings crucial quality control challenges across the automotive supply chain and, in response, the field of materials analysis has been rapidly changing. The continued development and application of technologies like OES, XRF and LIBS is making analysis easier, with huge potential to unlock commercial value. Choosing the right technologies for every stage of the automotive development process is critical to ensure analysis keeps up with changing regulatory demands. Continued innovation and development are vital to help the automotive industry meet current and future challenges.