According to the World Steel Association, the automotive industry is involved twelve percent of all global steel consumption. Since the early days of vehicle production, steel has been one of the primary materials of choice, due to its durability and safety benefits.
Due to the pressure for vehicle manufacturers to produce more fuel efficient cars with less emissions, lighter metals such as aluminium are now beginning to take the place of galvanised steel and mild steel. This of course has affected mild steel suppliers around the globe.
How could a switch to other lighter metals affect the steel industry? Is it likely to happen anytime soon? Read more below to find out steel suppliers and the automotive industry and changing in response to this new shift in demand.
Why Steel Is Still Important to the Automotive Industry
Each car built at a factory requires a significant amount of steel. In a modern car, steel accounts for over 60% of the overall weight and structure of the vehicle.
As early as the 1920s steel has been used in car production. The durability and strength of the makes it a perfect metal to be used for making high quality bodies, chassis and engines. Steel is also perfect for mass production as it is easily welded, punched and imprinted.
Galvanised steel has also made cars more corrosion resistant, which as added to the development of steel as a key material in the production of vehicles of all shapes and sizes. The popularity of steel in the automotive industry has benefited mild steel suppliers for decades.
What Are The Benefits of Aluminium?
Manufacturers today are being pressured by consumers to produce cars with greater fuel economy. Better fuel economy means less consumption of fuel and, importantly to the environment, much less carbon dioxide emissions.
As a result, many car manufacturers are moving towards aluminium and plastic to produce vehicles that are lighter. An example of this is the 2015 model Ford F-150, which is 25% aluminium, a marked rise from earlier models that only contained 10%. According to studies in the United States of America, the average amount of aluminium used in car production has risen 20 kilograms per vehicle between the years of 2012 and 2015.
However, aluminium is a more expensive metal to use in production than steel. This also applies to other light weight products ranging from plastic composites to manganese products. Steel makers may respond by producing better quality strengthened steel.
Aluminium Vs High-Strength Steel – A Comparison
As aluminium is a lighter metal, it comes to reason that using aluminium would help make a car lighter. Automakers such as Tesla and Ford have taken this approach and chosen aluminium bodies over steel bodies in order to save weight to get better battery and payload capacity.
However, the body and chassis make up over half the weight of an average vehicle. These parts need to meet a minimum safety standard in their tensile strength. However, even the strongest aluminium alloy is only a quarter the strength of steel.
Whilst aluminium may be lighter, the thickness of it needs to be adjusted to meet safety standards. Instead, modern automotive producers use a thinner advanced high-strength steel (AHSS) to make the most out of the weight components.
Although aluminium may steel be lighter, the marginal difference compared the extreme rise in price makes steel a more efficient.
Cars made from aluminium also require greater space to make the body and chassis solid. This may reduce space efficiency in the vehicle’s interior.
Aluminium has better energy absorption than steel, and are thus considered a safer material for car production. However, it is incorrect to say that aluminium is ‘safer’ than steel.
Safety comes down to a combination of materials and design. Aluminium has built a reputation as a very safe material to work with. Every aluminium bodied vehicle on the market as of 2017 has a a five star safety rating according to ANCAP.
It would be a mistake to attribute this to the safety benefits of the material however, as these cars are primarily luxury, new, high end vehicles. As Dr Jody Hall of the automotive market division of SMDI says, “it’s a risky move to convert a pickup to aluminium”. Meaning that most everyday cars still benefit from being constructed with steel.
Aluminium may be a great material is some aspects of safety and engineering, however it still has a very high price associated with it’s use in production.
Steel is the most recyclable material on the planet, and involves a far less complex method recycling process than aluminium.
Aluminium may be recycled through advanced and expensive process which requires segmenting the grades of aluminium before they can be melted.
Steel has a reputation for it’s higher yield and better ductility than aluminium alloys. Many traditional body shapes require to steel in order to meet the design requirements.
However, as designs change, aluminium is increasingly being factored in design process. This does not mean that steel producers are not innovating either.
Since the 1970s the number of steel grades has expanded from seven to over two hundred. This gives automotive manufacturers more options than ever when designing new vehicle models.
Experts, and even some mild steel suppliers, have been predicting that steel will no longer be a material used in automotive manufacturing since 1953. However, steel still remains the primary metal used for production of vehicles.
In 2014 a survey by Ducker Worldwide predicted that as many as seven out of ten pick up trucks would be made out of aluminium over steel. This has yet to happen and the uptake has been vastly underwhelming.
Aluminium and steel are both key to producing cars of the best quality and highest efficiency. Whilst aluminium has various properties that make it ideal for certain parts of a car, the chassis and engine are still mainly dominated by high quality AHSS.