Detroit-based LIFT, Partners Work to Lighten Aluminum Parts


Detroit-based Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT) has partnered with aerospace manufacturer Boeing and Ohio State University to advance technologies for die casting and heat-treating aluminum parts in an effort to take the air out of aluminum parts to make them lighter.

“If we can reduce just a few ounces of metal from automobile engine mounting cradles or the housings that hold transmissions we can deliver an impact that is multiplied by the millions,” says Larry Brown, executive director of LIFT. “In aerospace, an added benefit might lower manufacturing costs as well as increase fuel savings from the lighter weight designs.”

Brown says with current high-speed aluminum die casting, microscopic air bubbles can form inside the part as the molten metal travels through the mold. Engineers, in turn, use more metal and make the parts thicker to meet strength and other performance requirements. He says high-speed aluminum die-casting is primarily used in the aerospace, defense, and automotive industries.

“We know in the laboratory that if we pull all the air out of the mold just before the molten metal flows in we can eliminate the bubbles,” says Alan Luo, professor of materials science and engineering at Ohio State. “Without bubbles we can design thinner parts that are just as strong and durable, but with less metal and lighter weight.” 

The researchers will also work to enhance computer models to predict the performance of aluminum die cast parts by combining the information about the microstructure of the metal with design and production parameters.