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Lightweight metal foam components for the transport industry

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Light as air, metallic foams promise comfort, safety and economy

The increasing demands of the transport industry for reducing operation costs and producing safer and more comfortable end-products, while respecting the environment has led to the development of lighter and stiffer materials with improved weight savings. Among these materials, metallic foams are of great interest. This project has resulted in the development of a new powder metallurgical method that offers its users the capability of producing foamed metals of variable shapes and structures.

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Mixing a foaming agent into a commercial metal powder results in a porous metal matrix, the metal foam has unequalled properties, such as materials with lowest density possible. These foamed metals exhibit higher strengths and better energy absorption than the corresponding polymers currently used. In addition, these materials can be recycled. Despite their unique features, foam metals have limited applications. Until recently, there were many technical difficulties in the production of components of variable geometry. Fortunately, this projects work overcame these problems by inventing a new technique that goes beyond the production of sheets and simple profiles. Using heat treatment and the appropriate conventional technique, the metal matrix can take a large variety of shapes, such as rods and complex profiles. The new technique provides a versatile way of producing complex foam-metal parts, including aluminium foam sandwich panels and foam filled hollow structures. All these materials share optimised properties of lightweight construction, high stiffness, energy absorption characteristics and mechanical and acoustical vibration damping. For this reason, they can replace the composites and polymers used in automobile, aerospace and other industrial applications. Particularly the high stiffness and energy absorption benefits of the material will result in safer and more comfortable vehicles. In addition, the weight saving feature will improve fuel economy and its noise-abatement characteristics will lead to quieter driving than normal.

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