, a ‘digital manufacturing expert’, has announced that the CHAMPP (Casting-Hybrid-Additive-Manufacturing-Parts-Production) consortium, of which it is a part, has been awarded a significant grant to research, develop and test an innovative new hybrid production process that will address a number of the key limitations of additive manufacturing (AM) for the automotive sector — specifically electric vehicles (EVs).
The CHAMPP programme brings together a ‘critical mass’ of technical and market expertise with three key partners, namely Alloyed, Brunel University London’s BCAST, Gestamp and its affiliate Autotech.
With the EV market ‘projected to reach about 27 million units per year by 2030’, the automotive industry is constantly working on solutions to meet the challenges associated with heavy batteries and developing lighter components to achieve efficiency targets.
AM has long offered automotive designers and manufacturers the potential to overcome these challenges, but is currently still limited by the speed of the processes, maximum part size and a relatively high cost-per-part — generally, twice the cost of casting production methods.
The CHAMPP programme has been initiated to investigate a hybrid approach to the production of parts by considering the benefits of both casting and AM. The programme will combine the expertise of Alloyed in developing novel and innovative new alloys using its ‘Alloy by Design’ (ABD) platform for both casting and AM, as well as the capabilities of its ‘Engine’ platform for increasing AM performance, with the expertise of BCAST and Gestamp in their respective fields of casting research and the ‘world-class global manufacturing’ of automotive parts.
The vision is to combine the low cost-per-part capabilities of casting with the design and production flexibility of AM. In this way automotive manufacturers will be able to cast their standard components across multiple models, and subsequently use metal AM to customise those standard parts for specific variants at the volumes required.
To date, research in this area has mostly focused on steel materials. However, while steel remains a relatively low-cost material, the complex supply chains and/or costly new machines have been a barrier to large-scale hybridisation reaching the mainstream.
Moreover, research on hybridisation using aluminium (or its alloys) has been limited by traditional cast/wrought alloys which, when used with AM processes, result in poor mechanical performance.
Similarly, current aluminium alloy AM powders are generally not suited for automotive production applications, as they are costly and result in poorer mechanical properties with many defects.
The CHAMPP project aims to build on the consortium's prior alloy and hybridisation research to develop and test new aluminium alloys that better suited to future automotive needs.
The focus will be on developing alloys that can first be cast and then subsequently built on to produce custom/complex features using AM techniques with a compatible alloy that maintains mechanical properties and performance.