Sandwich panels take heavy hits
Metallic foam may revolutionise safety, writes NEIL McDONALD
HI-TECH aerospace-style materials that could make cars lighter and safer are being researched by Swinburne University of Technology engineers in Melbourne.
The aluminium foam and honeycomb components could have widespread application in the car industry, Swinburne mechanical engineering lecturer Dr Tracy Dong Ruan says.
The aircraft industry already uses sandwichtype materials and Ruan is confident carmakers will follow suit.
Cars made of the materials could be lighter and use less fuel, she says.
The Port Melbourne-based Co-operative Research Centre for Advanced Automotive Technology is supporting Swinburne’s work.
It’s research program manager, Dr Gary White, says metallic foams are well suited to car parts that sustain impact.
‘‘Bumper mounts, door openings and intrusion bars are examples of components that may improve in crash performance if metal foams are part of their design,’’ he says.
White says the Swinburne findings will be presented on a global stage for the auto industry.
‘‘There is a big opportunity to use these materials in new vehicles like electric cars,’’ he says. ‘‘As we move to electric vehicles there is still a need for light weight and good crash performance.’’
Ruan says ongoing research will provide a better understanding of the crashworthiness and energy-absorbing properties of the materials.
‘‘It will potentially open the way for their application in safer automobiles, and it will be significant for Australia’s design of environmentally friendly, lighter and safer cars.’’
She says the sandwich panels give better protection in a crash than those on regular steel-bodied cars. The aluminium foams and honeycombs can have large, plastic deformation at an almost constant and relatively low force.
In an accident, the aluminium foams and honeycombs can crush to absorb impact energy, protecting passengers from injury or the core car safety cell from being damaged.
The metallic foam core inside the sandwich panels being studied will compress to absorb impact energy, decreasing the impact force of a collision on a vehicle’s passengers.
Typically, the energy absorbed by aluminium sandwich panels is double the energy absorbed by solid metals of equivalent mass.
Asorbs impact: Swinburne University’s Dr Tracy Dong Ruan with the honeycomb sandwich panels and aluminium foam. Picture: MANUELA CIFRA