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Shaping the Future: Casting research ramps up to industrial scale

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Innovative technologies to make automotive components lighter and completely recyclable will be tested under industry conditions as Brunel University London opens its on campus car component research facility – the Advanced Metal Casting Centre (AMCC).

The £17m,1500 m building  is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Innovate UK, global aluminium component producer Constellium and car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover. The facility is equipped with:

·  A commercial 1600 tonne locking force high pressure die caster for aluminium and magnesium alloys

·  A commercial 240 kN closing force low pressure die caster

·  A pilot scale hot-top direct chill caster for 2m long billets up to 204 mm in diameter

·  A commercial 16 MN direct extrusion press with taper controlled billet heating

·  A scaled-up twin roll caster incorporating Brunel’s novel melt conditioning technology

·  High resolution real-time X-ray inspection

The primary aim is to scale up from fundamental research carried out in the Brunel Centre for Advanced Solidification Techniques (BCAST) and the Liquid Metal Engineering Centre (LiME) under Professor Zhongyun Fan.

By validating techniques using industry-standard equipment, the research facility should be able to bridge the so-called “valley of death” between lab-scale success and mainstream factory floor implementation.

Professor Fan and his team have demonstrated how it is possible to condition molten aluminium alloys to produce castings with a much finer grain structure so car components can be made up to 40 per cent lighter.

The same techniques also hold out significant promise in making mixed aluminium alloys scrap a suitable material for high quality castings. Currently such scrap is difficult or impossible to recycle to a high enough quality for re-use in automotive manufacturing.

Officially opening the AMCC on Thursday, April 7, Brunel’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Julia Buckingham announced work will shortly begin on a second facility the Advanced Metal Processing Centre so that a broader range of components can be produced and tested against current practice.

Once operational they will form, along with Constellium’s University Technology Center at Brunel, the National Metals Research Park to broaden the end customer base to include aerospace, rail and other engineering industries.

Said Professor Buckingham: “Professor Fan and his team are at the forefront of research which holds the promise of cars which are not only significantly lighter and so more fuel-efficient but which at the end of their useful working life can be re-cycled much more easily into new ones.

“As the leading Tier 1 supplier of aluminium structural components to the global automotive market, and a leader in innovation in our industry, we are excited about the advantages Constellium’s University Technology Center will offer to automakers,” stated Paul Warton, President of Constellium’s Automotive Structures and Industry business unit.

“A one-of-a-kind center of excellence, the Constellium UTC will allow us to prototype alloys and components on full-scale equipment with unprecedented speed and time to market.”

Jaguar Land Rover Chief Technical Specialist, Advanced Body, Mark White, said: “The Advanced Metal Casting Centre (AMCC) at Brunel’s Uxbridge Campus will provide Jaguar Land Rover’s engineers with a facility to create and develop the new lightweight alloys and technologies of the future.

“As well as supporting collaborative research, the findings from the AMCC will develop and test breakthrough advanced lightweight technologies and develop the skills across the automotive industry, academia and the supply chain.”