May 1, 2013 will always be a day that the Ford Motor Company and the design team for the Ford Fusion can look back on with pride. That was the day the Steel Market Development Institue (SMDI) of the American Iron and Steel Institue awarded them the Automotive Excellence Award for 2013. Why? Because of their “innovative use of advanced high-strength steel throughout the [car’s] body structure and closures.”
So what was this innovative use? After all, high-strength steel has been used in cars for years. Turns out the Ford Fusion is the first car to make use of hydroformed steel tubes in its B-pillars – a design decision Ron Krupitzer (VP of automotive market, SMDI) believes “contributes to the vehicle’s improved side impact performance, mass reduction and roof strength.” All of which are important to the industry and consumers.
So what is tube hydroforming? Basically, it’s a process that uses a mold and hydraulic fluid to form a tube. Aluminum is placed inside a mold followed by the injection of hydraulic fluid under high-pressure. As the hydraulic fluid enters, the aluminum fills the mold evenly creating a tube that’s stronger and lighter than those created by other processes.
The automotive industry isn’t the only industry that’s discovered the advantages of tube hydroforming. The bicycle industry has as well. In traditional bicycle making, the tubes for the frame are stamped out of the material, a process which can cause weak points at the corners and rounded surfaces since the pressure used in the process is not distributed evenly. Hydroformed tubes avoid that uneven pressure and are stronger for it. In addition to their greater strength and lighter weight, hydroformed tubes also provide bicycle makers with reduced production costs, safer working conditions, and a better surface for painting and finishing.
Since it’s creation in the 1950s, the hydroforming has been used in the production of many products – from cars to bicycles to brass instruments and many other things. It’s a process whose future is bright and is sure to include many more awards and inventions.
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