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Event Sheds Light on Lightweighting Obstacles and Opportunities

A major lightweighting trend is the move toward implementing a mixed material approach in order to lose weight, according to speakers at the September 25 Automotive Lightweighting Summit, organized by the Society of Automotive Analysts (SAA).  The new approach requires a systematic design and holistic mindset with engineering, product development, finance, purchasing, operations, sales and marketing all playing a role.

Attendees at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Detroit Branch heard from eight speakers representing leading steel and aluminum mills, material distributors, automakers and parts suppliers.

“The speakers clearly pointed out the importance of lightweighting as well as the numerous and interconnected paths the manufacturers and suppliers are taking to achieve their goals,” said SAA President Tom Libby.

“I was hoping there were key politicians there so they’d understand that lightweighting (and similar industry challenges) involves a lot more than simple fixes,” added SAA Board Member Mike Hedge.  “Lightweighting isn’t simply shedding a few pounds here and there, or switching to a different material. It’s an enormously complex challenge that requires innovation, breakthrough technology, and breakthroughs in the science of metallurgy, among other advances — and of course, a lot of money.”

Among the speakers was Dr. Blake Zuidema, Director of Product Applications for ArcelorMittal, who provided a technical overview and materials outlook for steels and explained key applications and related implications of the company’s new advanced high strength steels.

“When I think of material strength and where the steel industry is headed, I now think of ArcelorMittal’s next generation materials.  Dr. Zuidema made the case that they are committed to innovation,” said Aluminum Blanking Company’s Chris Brower, who also serves as SAA Vice President.

“From ArcelorMittal’s next generation materials, to Olympic Steel’s expansion into specialty metals, and from Shiloh’s interesting growth story based on a corporate strategy ‘centered on lightweighting’, to the new approaches in closed loop recycling from Novelis, it is clear that business models across the supply chain are indeed evolving,” Brower added.

The lightweighting strategy is not a new concept, but the speed to offer weight savings has accelerated, according to Brower. The added level of complexities of these new materials, downstream impacts and new material flow paths being established, has become a key focus area.  Several speakers provided examples of where new investment is pouring into those areas where industry gaps exist.  At the same time, the reparability, maintenance, and service factors cannot be overlooked.

As lightweighting has taken on an increased importance, it has become critical for OEMs, parts suppliers and material suppliers to work together.

“Events like this summit is one of the best ways for the tier community to see and hear what is going on,” said Rob Peckham, Technical Integration Engineer of Mass Strategy and Tools for General Motors. “Engagement and industry collaboration is key.  The supplier community plays a key role and needs to be involved.”

“Suppliers who are more vertically integrated are better positioned to capture more margin potential,” noted Abey Abraham, Managing Director of Ducker Worldwide. “That type of offering tends to enhance customer intimacy and retention.”

“Weight savings has become a top priority which is requiring all industry stakeholders to tweak their playbooks,” Brower added.

Gary Gallo, Senior Manager of Automotive/OEM Recycling at Novelis highlighted the significant growth projected in aluminum sourcing over the next 10 years, which he said “presents new opportunities for the mills and material suppliers alike, and even more so with as much as 30 to 40 percent of all aluminum material generated is coming back as scrap.”

“This projected growth in aluminum and the associated amount of scrap is a good example of an area where we will see new entrants and solutions coming to market,” Brower said.

Shawn Morgans, Global Vehicle Architecture Manager for Ford Motor Co., discussed how the automaker is not only committed to lightweighting in the United States, but is dedicated to reducing weight on vehicles globally.

“Everyone globally, meaning all countries we do business in, are focused on lightweighting vehicle fleets in some way.  It doesn’t matter if it is developing countries or not, we are seeing the convergence,” Morgans said.

SAA’s Lightweighting Summit conference will be offered again in 2018.  Please continue to check SAA’s website (www.saaauto.com) for event announcements and updates.

 

 

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