Sand­wich pan­els take heavy hits

Metal­lic foam may rev­o­lu­tionise safety, writes NEIL McDON­ALD

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News -

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

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