“New Aluminum Alloys For Turbo Engines”, Says FCA
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has teamed up with lightweight Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts supplier Nemak and Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in developing new aluminum alloys for turbocharged engines. After making their announcement on July 2nd, 2018, FCA hopes to deliver more efficiency without compromising performance.
The FCA group has faced a major challenge with their existing engine cylinder heads. Due to FCAs desire to increase compression ratios and levels that cause the influx of horsepower and fuel efficiency. The improved metal is needed to withstand the heat caused by this. The current aluminum heads are created from 319 or 356 grade aluminum, but once either hits over 200 degrees Celsius (392℉), it becomes fragile and risks breaking once all that heat is soaked up by the cylinder head. The new alloy creation, referred to as either 16HT or ACMZ, has the ability to withstand temperatures up to 300 degrees Celsius (572 ℉). Along with the new 16HT/ACMZ aluminum grades, engineers will also replace the silicon used in current aluminum alloys with copper. Although copper has been previously known to crack after the casting is applied, this combination was surprisingly successful.
“When we focused on copper, other people in the industry almost laughed us off, saying we’d never be able to cast that…We knew there was competition, including other teams working at Oak Ridge National Labs, but we outperformed everyone on this.” – Gregg Black, senior manager of advanced powertrain engineering at FCA, in a company blog post.
ACMZ also enables engineers to narrow the “bridge” area in the cylinder head – the area between the valves, spark plug, and direct fuel injector. Once the new bridge is put in place, more space is available for larger valves, even a second spark plug, and more flexibility to find the balance of power and efficiency needed in the particular vehicle application. What’s important is to maintain performance while delivering more efficiency. Oak Ridge National Laboratory volunteered their Titan supercomputer in order to allow engineers an understanding at the atomic level of the alloy as it cools to the size and location of strengthening elements called precipitates Considered the third most-powerful supercomputer in the US and seventh in the world, the Titan supercomputer assisted in virtually creating 50 never-before proposed aluminum-copper combinations to then simulate the cooling and performance properties. As a result, the team was able to narrow the field down to seven high-potential alloys in 24 months. This meant that the FCA never had to physically create the aluminum alloy to test it and, through a little bit of trial and error, Nemak and FCA were able to narrow down the new recipes to just seven options.
“The Titan and ICME let the team focus only on truly promising candidates instead of spending time on trial and error,” Black says. “It’s like Star Wars stuff for us, creating new alloys in the computer without having to pour it.” Black also states, “We’re just getting started on the process to create a design now that we have a material that will work…We feel like we really have a tiger by the tail.”
What’s unique about this new concept is that the new aluminum alloys use the same technologies used today and it only costs about 7 percent more than the current alloys. According to FCA, the three-year, $3.5-million project is sponsored by the federal government under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement known as a CRADA.
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