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Integration of the Security sub-modules elements in the automotive industry

Final Report Summary - ISSEA (Integration of the Security sub-modules elements in the automotive industry)

The main objective of the ISSEA project was the description of a general methodology aimed at the construction, in an integrated way, of the sub-modules that make up the vehicle suspension and steering module. This goal supposed research on three different scientific areas; each of them was a partial objective of the project:
- the choice of the HSLA most suitable to the intended production process, characterisation of the material properties and selection of the drawing method most appropriate;
- study of the laser welding technology and methodology that adjusts better to the production process on trial; and
- study of the non-pollutant coating, as well as the methodology of application, most applicable to our purposes.

The expected and reached achievement was a prototype of integrated security sub-modules (constituting the suspension and steering module) in the car manufacturing industry.

The first point in the implementation of the project was the construction of metallic structure in high strength low alloy steel (HSLA), instead of traditional one, in order to profit from its safety performance and lower weight at affordable cost. Once this done, the improvement proposed was based on the use of laser welding as joint method, a high quality way to reduce anchorage points and to increase the resistance of the sub-module. Thus, it would achieve a completely integrated, lighter and reliable security sub-module.

In order to be applied to the sub-module, the traditional treatment would have to be modified so as to respect the different natures of its elements. With regards to this aspect, it was proposed the development of a treatment with lower required temperatures (maximum 100 degrees Celsius), drawing particularly the attention to the removal of pollutant elements involved in traditional methods.

During the course of the project all planned objectives have been completely reached. The achievements of the project can be summarised as follows:

- definition of the model on trial by means of a partner agreement;
- formability of the HSLA regarding the model on trial. The materials were selected and completely characterised;
- adoption of the appropriate laser technology. The kind of laser welding, as well as the methodology applied in the ISSEA purposes were established;
- optimised design of the model on trial. The optimum parameter was established for the construction of the prototype that serves as demonstration of the technology developed;
- adoption of the appropriate surface coating. It has been completely established what sort of coating is the better in order to overcome the specifications of the designed sub-module on trial.

In order to give advertisement to these achievements the consortium had an exploitation plan, which included the basic lines of how the results obtained will be exploited.

The main problems of the working process are summarised below:
- diversification of protection treatments;
- pollution by toxic elements;
- slow and low quality union methods;
- generation of corrosion nucleuses;
- shortening of the sub-modules useful life.

To achieve the intended production process, ISSEA developed the construction of the structural elements of the sub-modules in a new material (high strength low alloy steel, HSLA), a laser technology applied to the integration of the element of the model, and has determined the surface coating processes most adequate with the purpose of preserving the piece from the corrosion.

HSLA steel was an alternative material which fulfils the security rules dictates by the automotive industry and allows a reduction of the cars' weight in order to reduce fuel consumption and pollutant emissions (CO2, NO2).

Regarding the most suitable technology for joining of the structural pieces, made of HSLA steel, ISSEA proposed laser welding. The use of laser technology was justified by its outstanding properties. The finishing of the welded zones is much more resistance, more accurate, has a higher quality, and affects less the surrounding areas than electrode welding, so that the zone affected by temperature-induced stress is keeping small.

And finally, due to the purpose of ISSEA was to obtain an integrated element, with metallic and rubber components, was necessary a unique final surface treatment after the union phase. For this aspect, in the project was developed an organic surface coating and a zinc electroplated coating that perfectly fits with the requirements of the new integrated sub-modules.

The experience required to carry out this project includes knowledge concerned:
- stamping and / or deep drawing of HSLA steel;
- production of anchorage pieces of sub-modules (metal-rubber and metal-plastic);
- laser welding;
- development of anti-corrosion surface treatments.

Production of motor vehicles is a powerful industry. Latest figures from Comité des Constructeurs Français d'Automobiles (CCFA) indicated that production of passenger cars in Western Europe reached 14 810 460 units in 2002. If the technology developed in this proposal was disseminated and applied, there would be a huge potential of profit for proposers and other related manufacturers.

A specific web site was designed for the present project. In the web, it was possible to see reports about the key issues, technical approach and expected achievements of ISSEA.

This was not just for facilitating the information exchange among partners during the development of the project, but to use it as public dissemination point of those results interesting for the society. It would also be used for announcing the results of the project.

The publication of the report about the key issues, technical approach and expected achievements of ISSEA, in simple terms so that easy to be understood by any person, has been via World Wide Web. Also a logotype, especially designed for this project, has been carried out.

During the project, some partners took the opportunity to disseminate the ISSEA's objectives and scopes in any conferences, congress or presentations in the automotive's world.

Several individual meetings were being realised along the project with different representatives of the distribution sector in Spain, Sweden, Italy and Portugal.

A public exhibition of the main achievements of the project in an international congress on automotive in 2006 was programmed. This action was targeted at researchers and professional of automotive sector.

The publication of the results of the project could be useful for the professional sectors, companies or users. In order for this to happen the following actions had to be taken:
1. Identification of the exploitable knowledge: New methodology for the integration of the security sub-modules elements in the automotive industry. Using HSLA steel, ISSEA designed a new integration system of the components by means of the welding, without bolts and with a new coating surface. The first considered aspect was the use of HSLA steel as a raw material of the structural piece. This was in direct relation to one of the most highlighted challenges of automakers nowadays, i.e. reducing mass while satisfying a range of technical, safety, environmental and consumer demands. The chosen material demonstrated good resistance to fatigue, so that it was a good candidate for durability sensitive components and security components. The joint of the different components was being the next aim. The intended goal was to obtain a completely integrated sub-module by means of laser welding. As an alternative to avoid problems caused by traditional welding, ISSEA have developed a type of laser welding that allowed unions in localised points as well as integrating components made of different nature such as plastics, rubber, etc. By keeping the size of the heat affected zone small, the effects of residual stresses were minimised. Moreover, laser permits the welding of joints accessible on only one side. This continuous joint connections increased structural stiffness compared with spot welding. This performance, as a consequence, would increase vehicles' resistance and users' safety. Furthermore the use of HSLA steel in the construction of the components supposed an extra challenge to afford. High strength steel permits mass reduction, and therefore thickness decreases. Consequently, if significant corrosion occurred, structural strength would be seriously affected. The integrated design of the sub-modules had a great advantage as being a unite that did not have to undergo any other assembly process after the coating, so that the protective surface keeps unaltered. In accordance with the trend of the European Union towards integrating environment to the industry, ISSEA developed an organic coating not polluting, without the use of nickel or chromium dependant processes, with the extra asset of being absolutely compatible with the temperatures required.
2. Interest of the partners on the dissemination and exploitation of the results.
3. Results property: The property of the results was shared by all the partners within the consortium.
4. Identification of the market: The future of methodologies and the results obtained in the ISSEA project could only be appraised in relation to emerging trends in the automotive industry as a whole. In order to introduce ISSEA technologies into the market it was necessary to know that the supply and distribution chain comprised five broad sectors: raw material inputs, component supply, vehicle assembly, distribution and after-sales service and replacement parts distribution. Even though some of the suppliers' products were of a generic type, developed at their own risk for several manufacturers' applications the great majority were developed by suppliers at the behest of the vehicle manufacturer for a specific vehicle or model range, up to three years before prelaunch production of the vehicle yields revenues. In order to reach this objective for ISSEA methodologies, there was a database of target group interested in the application of the process. The SMEs could increase the possibility of integration into the global value chains of multinational automotive companies by opening up their domestic markets.
5. Agreement with companies and clients: Several partners have been making contracts with other companies in order to incorporate the ISSEA results in the market.
6. Commercialisation plan: Taking into account the target group selected, the first action would be a first contact addressed to professionals of automotive sector and other related sectors, which would include a project's brochure with a summary of the objectives and scopes of the project. Following this step, the telephone contact would extract the first interest of the potential clients. Once clients have been identified, the companies would be informed in order to reach an agreement with the clients.

During the course of the ISSEA project a new methodology was generated for the obtaining integrated security sub-modules (constituting the suspension and steering module) by means of:
- the use of high strength low alloy steel (HSLA) in order to profit from its safety performance and lower weight at affordable cost;
- the use of laser welding as joint method, a high quality way to reduce anchorage points and to increase the resistance of the sub-module; and finally
- the use of an unaltered coating in the response against corrosion of the pieces; due to the different properties of the pieces, the sub-modules are made up of a steel structure and anchorage elements (rubber-metal or plastic-metal), ISSEA has developed a treatment with lower required temperatures (80 degrees Celsius aproximately), drawing particularly the attention to the removal of pollutant elements involved in traditional methods.

This methodology could be transferred to the automotive industry in order to make components in a more competitive way. This new methodology for the integration of the security sub-modules elements in the automotive industry introduced an improvement with reference to the classic methodologies and a novelty at word level.

Success in ISSEA would provide automotive SME suppliers an additional added value and cost reduction as well as a boost to competitiveness.