Steel and aluminum are two very different metals, and getting them to bind together in a stable, continuous weld has been next to impossible on any kind of large scale. Honda Motor Vehicles has announced that it's doing just that.
The solution has come via a variation on friction stir welding, and will allow Honda to join the materials via mechanical pressure in a way that will change how it make its cars — leading to better performance.
In a press statement, Honda explains: "This technology generates a new and stable metallic bonding between steel and aluminum by moving a rotating tool on the top of the aluminum which is lapped over the steel with high pressure."
The welds created are reported to be as strong or stronger than those made through traditional metal inert gas welding. The process has allowed engineers to change the structure of the subframe, changing the mounting point for the suspension. This has made the mounting point 20 percent more rigid, improving the car's dynamic performance.
A strong frame with better performance is obviously a good thing in a car. The other good thing in a car frame? Lightness. The combination steel/aluminum subframes are said to be 25 percent lighter than ordinary steel frames, and that means you and I will have better fuel economy.
The savings also apply at the factory. The friction weld uses around half the electricity as Metal Inert Gas welding and the smaller machinery allows it to be attached to industrial robots. Plus the technique works for aluminum-to-aluminum welding that means once the hardware is installed it can be amortized by multiple uses.
For those of you who are thinking "Is this stuff safe," Honda is deploying a new, non-destructive infrared camera and laser inspection system that will be used to check all the welds.
It seems like the new innovation ticks all the boxes — performance, economy and safety. Honda is rolling out the new subframe on the 2013 Accord; no word on whether the innovation might affect sticker price.
Honda, via Gizmag