It is a common misconception that aluminum, the same material used for cans and aluminum foil, is a weak metal. However, aluminum is both strong and versatile material that is uniquely suited for the performance racing industry and the production of cars. In addition to supplying strength and corrosion resistance, aluminum can help reduce the automotive industry’s footprint with carbon emissions by creating vehicles that can be recycled indefinitely. This is not only beneficial for the environment, but can also increase profitability for automotive manufacturers.
Aluminum in the Automotive Industry
Aluminum is an extremely durable metal that will retain its qualities for long lengths of time. In fact, seventy-five percent of all material produced (since the first production in 1825) is still in use today; approximately twenty-eight percent of that material has been in use within the transportation industry. In 2015, The United Nations, in a joint effort with the International Chamber of Commerce, released a report titled Scaling Up Sustainability Collaboration in which the benefits of aluminum are discussed from research compiled through thirty international case studies with both international and domestic trade associations.
Aluminum is increasing in overall usage throughout American industry in general, but the biggest growth in the aluminum market is found in the transportation sector. Within the transportation industry, aluminum is quickly growing in the commercial sectors through its use in ships or trains, but a greater growth has been found in the private sector in the personal automotive industry. This is largely due to the fact that aluminum is highly resistant to rust and corrosion in a way that steel cannot, making a better quality, long-lasting body. In addition, wire conduits made from aluminum will not spark creating a safer electrical system within the car. Aluminum also has a high strength-to-weight ratio allowing producers to get the same level of performance as from steel but at a reduced weight, making for improved gas mileage. It is projected that by 2025, aluminum content in passenger vehicles in North America will increase from 350 pounds to 547 pounds, with an equivalent reduction in the weight of vehicles by the same amount. With the increasing amount of Americans seeking better miles-per-gallon costs when purchasing a vehicle for personal use, reducing the vehicle’s weight is becoming paramount for automotive companies.
Ducker Worldwide, with knowledge acquired from The Aluminum Association, has stated that the automotive industry can see improvements in both performance and profitability by replacing steel with aluminum. For example, Ford Motor Company has been able to reduce the weight of their F-150 truck by more than 700 pounds through the substitution of military-grade aluminum for steel in key parts. This not only improves gas efficiency in its vehicle, but it also allows Ford to lower the overall cost of operation. Furthermore, a switch to greater aluminum content in their vehicles will show American consumers that Ford is committed and on the forefront to help reduce the United States’ dependency on foreign resources such as oil and gas.
Personal passenger vehicles are not the only category within the automotive industry that can benefit from aluminum production. Cars used within the performance racing industry also see great advantages from aluminum parts and bodies. With a higher amount of aluminum incorporated into the design, racing cars can achieve faster runs while using less gas.
Benefits of Aluminum in Performance Racing Vehicles
Performance racing cars with aluminum bodies, parts, and components experience great benefits that increase performance level. Several specific parts have been tested and compared between aluminum construction and that of steel with aluminum showing distinct advantages.
An important piece of many racecars is the bird cage. The bird cage uses four-link rear suspension and double shear radius rod mounting brackets to increase strength and reduce flexing. It can also be fitted for brake floating options or rotating shock mounts. In the past, bird cages were made of steel making them weighty for their size. Steel birdcages, however, are considered “unsprung weight” which is believed to react at the spring creating a shock that is ten times greater than the weight of the car. Aluminum bird cages have been found to be just as effective as their steel counterparts at a lower weight. The benefit of a lower weight is a reduction in this “unsprung weight” which improves the effect of the driving performance of the car. In an industry in which every ounce counts and every performance matters, aluminum can provide a crucial advantage.
High-performance engine parts such as the EFR-9174 super core have housing that is composed of aluminum creating a significant weight reduction. Premium micro-forged aluminum wheels are also used throughout the motorsports industry. Lessening the weight of wheels is extremely beneficial given the hefty weight of racing tires. Spring plates and lock nuts made of aluminum can ensure maximum stability at a minimum weight. Recently, a new system of bumpers was designed and developed that uses extruded aluminum for the reinforcement beam and mounting brackets with resilient polyurethane foam as an energy absorbing material. This system provides a lower mass due to variable wall thickness, along with a significant reduction in tooling costs from the standard steel manufacturing methods.
Franklin Racing of Pennsylvania uses a rear axle tube that is gun drilled from a 3.125 diameter 7075 aluminum rod. When made of steel this axle tube will weigh about eighteen pounds, but in aluminum, it weigh just over six creating a significant weight reduction that in turn improves performance. Intake manifolds are another part that when made of aluminum can provide a sixty percent reduction in weight compared to steel. Additionally, aluminum is nearly forty percent more thermally conductive than steel achieving an improved fuel to air ratio. As heat is transferred away from the fuel, the fuel becomes more dense which results in more horsepower.
Aluminum is just as good as steel, and in many ways is a better option for performance racing cars. Aluminum performs better in accidents as it can absorb twice the amount of crash energy as steel diminishing the impact on the driver. Aluminum has further been proven to provide distinct advantages in stopping distance, handling, and driving performance, which combined, can help to prevent accidents from happening. Aluminum space frame side members have also been tested and have shown to increase passenger safety in frontal crashes.
The automotive industry as a whole has seen an increased use of aluminum in passenger vehicles. AAluminum-intensive cars allow mass to be better controlled, providing greater luxury and space in addition to enhanced road performance and fuel efficiency. Aluminum has the capability of reducing a car’s weight by up to forty percent creating significant gains in fuel economy that cannot be reached through down sizing, drive train improvements or aerodynamic designs alone. Aluminum also provides for extended durability than that of steel; it carries the possibility of enduring fifteen to twenty years that is unmatched by steel.
Using aluminum in performance racing vehicles is proven to be advantageous over steel construction. Aluminum is a high quality, strong metal that comes at a lower weight, generating increased cost effectiveness for both production and performance.
Mark Schreiber of Clinton Aluminum (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Brian Dean of Franklin Racking (email@example.com)
Keino Williams of Williams Engineering (firstname.lastname@example.org)