General Motors just announced a new welding process it already implements in some cars that allows for increased use of the lightweight material, ultimately offering improved fuel economy.
Using a multi-ring domed electrode, the automaker can weld aluminum on aluminum, a process that wasn’t reliable enough with the old “smooth-electrode” system. Complicated as the technology probably sounds, it leads to simple end user results: lighter cars and by association, improved fuel efficiency.
“This new technology solves the long-standing problem of spot welding aluminum, which is how all manufacturers have welded steel parts together for decades,” GM chief technology officer Jon Lauckner said. “It is an important step forward that will grow in importance as we increase the use of aluminum in our cars, trucks and crossovers over the next several years.”
Being able to use more aluminum in vehicle structures is something other automakers are also already taking advantage of. Jaguar Land Rover, for example, nicked weight from its XJ sedan by adding an aluminum monocoque chassis. Even more recently, the brand brought the same design into its new Range Rover, shedding a shocking 700 lbs compared to the previous model.
As you might expect, anything good and drastic from the luxury brand is also pretty expensive and there’s no exception here, at least for now. GM says it plans to license the multi-ring domed system to other companies, for uses including “automotive, heavy truck, rail and aerospace applications,” said Blair Carlson, GM’s manufacturing systems research lab group manager. “No other automaker is spot-welding aluminum body structures to the extent we are planning to, and this technology will allow us to do so at low cost.”
The cars that already benefit from the technology include the Cadillac CTS-V (shown above), Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, though there will be more in 2013. Aluminum use is also expected to double in vehicles by 2025 according to research firm Ducker Worldwide.