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The automotive industry is in transition, with materials light in weight and the end product increasingly propelled by electricity. This means new challenges when it comes to joining techniques.
The ongoing efforts to fight climate change is having an important impact on the automotive industry. Breakthroughs in battery technologies in combination with various governmental initiatives are driving a change from fossil fuels to electric cars.
Another important objective is reducing the weight of vehicles. For traditional cars, this is a key factor for reducing CO2 emissions. The heavier the car, the more fuel it will consume. Since range is an issue for electrical vehicles, and the weight of batteries is considerable, there is also a big incentive to find ways to make these cars as light as possible. Both of these factors push increased use of lightweight materials such as aluminum, carbon fiber composites and highgrade steel.
The immature state of the technology means that new concepts and models are being developed all the time. Companies invest in smaller, more flexible plants with the ability to quickly change or adjust lines of production.
“We understand that our customers in the automotive industry are facing major challenges with developing their processes and techniques,” says Nicklas Tibblin, Vice President Marketing at Atlas Copco Industrial Technique. “To achieve flexibility you need to have equipment optimized for change. You want to eliminate as much hardware as possible. Atlas Copco’s range of battery-powered tools allows customers to get rid of controllers, which makes a transition much faster and easier. Also, the connected, smart tools we provide can help the operator quickly adapt to a new process, since the tool will help you do things in the right order.”
The increased use of new materials also means that car manufacturers must come up with new assembly processes. Joining steel to aluminum and fixing composites to aluminum in a secure way can call for new equipment and solutions. One focus is on developing new rivets and riveting methods for joining high-strength steel and ultra-high-strength steel to high-strength aluminum.
“It is key for us to be fast and adjust our R&D to shifting trends,” says Andreas Kiefer, Vice President Business Development at Atlas Copco Industrial Technique. “Our advantage is that we are a one-stop shop within technologies for joining and fastening. We cover all of them and have an incredible experience and knowledge in this area. Understanding the customers’ full process, we can support them even within research and development.”
A flagship technology is the fully tubular rivets developed for riveting three or four layers of high-strength 6000 series aluminum alloys. The tubular rivet range is currently being expanded to cover a wider range of joining solutions, such as smaller-diameter rivets for joining narrower flange widths to reduce the amount of sheet metal employed and increase interior cabin space. Another example is leading expertise in adhesive bonding technology, which can be used in addition to traditional welding to help lower the overall weight of automobiles.
The rise of electric power trains also creates new joining needs connected to battery manufacture and assembly. Batteries become an integrated part of the vehicle structure, and lithium ion cell assembly is safety-critical. In every step of the assembly process you have to use smart and secure joining technologies.
“Atlas Copco has found innovative ways of handling all types of joining within the battery pack,” Tibblin says. “One of our most important strengths is our capability to work directly with our customers in this way. We are familiar with their assembly processes, we know the best practices and can supply them with a lot of knowledge in their production.”