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Basque research harnessed to manufacture more environmentally friendly vehicles

Elhuyar Fundazioa

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IMAGE: The IK4 R&D Alliance has been leading a European project in which new techniques have been designed to manufacture lighter structural automotive parts. view more

Credit: IK4

The need to make a commitment to new, lighter models of transport that allow pollution to be reduced and natural resources to be preserved, is driving forward the design of advanced manufacturing technologies that are environmentally friendly and economically accessible for components manufacturers.

Right now, there are techniques that allow lighter aluminium automotive parts to be manufactured, but their high cost limits them to top-of-the-range vehicles. In order to design solutions that can be transferred to SMEs and which can be deployed in all types of cars, the IK4 R&D Alliance, through the IK4-AZTERLAN centre, has been leading a European project enabling manufacturing techniques for light structural components at a more competitive price to be developed.

The initiative, known as Soundcast, has focussed on combining various innovative techniques. They include the use of vacuum-assisted, high-pressure aluminium die casting technology (HPDC), alloys that are cheaper and more sustainable, and new laser welding adapted to the die casting process.

"Any reduction in vehicle weight, no matter how small, will have an impact multiplied by millions. The technologies developed in Soundcast are fully applicable in small and medium casting companies", maintained the project coordinator Ana Fernández of IK4-AZTERLAN.

This project comes within the line of research on alloys and aluminium transformation processes undertaken by IK4 which is seeking to drive forward the democratisation of vacuum-assisted HPDC technology through the development of new secondary alloys and process control technology.

The initiative, which kicked off in 2012, is in its final phase; this involves the demonstrations and testing of the technologies developed by all the members of the consortium: the Spanish aluminium die casting company Ruffini, and the German company Schmale & Schulte.

The use of the technologies developed is particularly useful in the sphere of hybrid and electric vehicles.

Soundcast is part of the 7th Framework Programme designed to drive forward innovation and research in the EU and has a total budget of 1.75 million euros, of which over 1.1 million euros are provided by European funds.

In addition to the above-mentioned organisations, the Catalan industrial research centre ASCAMM, the Technische Universität Braunschweig (Germany), the Swiss vacuum equipment supplier VDS, and the German lubricant supplier ChemTrend are also participating in the international consortium involved in the project.

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