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Aluminum Fabrication Overview

Characterizing Al Tailor-Welded Blanks for Automotive Applications


R.W. Davies, H.E. Oliver, M.T. Smith, and G.J. Grant
manufacturing to assure consistent weld quality and performance characteristics. The production of aluminum TWBs involves blanking aluminum-alloy sheet into desired sizes and orientations, cleaning the materials, precisely positioning the materials relative to each other, and welding the sheets together into a single flat sheet. Each step in the process is considered critical to avoid excessive gap between sheets prior to welding and to prevent or eliminate contamination on the sheets that may result in a weld imperfection. Many of these issues have WELDING PROCESS AND WELD been addressed in the successful develMATERIAL CHARACTERISTICS opment and deployment of steel TWBs INTRODUCTION in the automotive industry. The successful application of alumiWelding thin-sheet aluminum alloys The current trend in the automotive num TWBs is contingent upon reliable offers a new challenge to the inindustry is to develop and apply dustry. Steel materials are typitechnology to continually reduce cally more easily welded than cost and weight and minimize aluminum materials, and these the energy consumption and ensteel materials rely heavily on vironmental impact of future laser welding systems in many vehicles. As a result, advanced production applications. The materials and methods of matecombination of aluminums high rial savings for the purpose of reflectivity, low molten viscosvehicle weight reduction are of ity, and inherent oxide layer ofinterest to all major automotive fers a new challenge to convenmanufacturers, as reflected by the tional laser welding systems, and significant focus of the Partneras a result, aluminum is reported ship for New Generation Vehicles to have a high propensity to form (PNGV) on materials issues. Aluporosity and cracks internal to minum-sheet stampings are bea the weld material.14 For these ing increasingly applied in highvolume hang-on applications, and other reasons, significant including hoods, decklids, and effort is being expended liftgates, with considerable inthroughout the industry to deterest in door stampings as well. velop aluminum welding techAutomotive engineers have also niques that produce consistently been successful in reducing reliable ductility in the weld weight, reducing part count, material. Three candidate weld streamlining the assembly protechnologies working toward cess, and reducing costs by takhigh-volume implementation ing advantage of singular steelare laser methods,1,2 nonvacuum tailored blanks to replace mulelectron-beam (NVEB) welding,3 tiple blanks that would have to and gas-tungsten arc welding be separately stamped and as(GTAW).5,6 This article discusssembled. The same opportunies the experimental characterties exist for aluminum tailored ization of NVEB welding and blanks, with added weight savGTAW with an emphasis on b ings. Potential applications of aluthe autogeneous GTA-welded Figure 1. (a) A TWB viewed in the as-welded condition, ready minum tailored blanks extend to AA5182-O sheet materials. for submission to the stamping process. The shape shown is body-in-white stampings. A typical microstructure of typical for a door inner stamping operation. (b) Aluminum TWB Aluminum tailor-welded an autogeneous GTA-welded after stamping to produce a door inner panel. The door inner blanks (TWBs) consist of mulAA5182-O material is shown in stamping consists of AA5182-O in varying thickness. However, tiple thickness (and sometimes Figure 2, which illustrates a seccomponents of multiple alloys and different thickness are multiple alloy) sheet materials tion through the weld looking possible. (Photos courtesy of Reynolds Metals Company and that are welded together into a along the length of the weld. The Ogihara America Corporation.) The application of aluminum tailor-welded blanks offers significant potential for reducing the weight of future automobiles, and improvements are being made in the development and understanding of the welding process. There are several geometric and internal weld features that make the complete numerical description of tailor-welded blank forming challenging. The variation of the experimental formability results found in the literature for aluminum tailor-welded blanks appears to be large, and a combined theoretical tensile instability and statistical analysis of internal weld porosity may explain at least some of the variation reported. single, multiple-gauge blank. In automotive applications, these blanks are subsequently stamped to produce a body panel. Figure 1 is an illustration of a prototype aluminum TWB in an innerpanel door application. It can be seen that the TWB door shown comprises three sheets, with added material thickness on both sides of the door in the hinge and latch regions. To make the required shape, the weld metal of the TWB must withstand significant plastic deformation. 46 JOM November 1999

less ductile and exhibits more variation ject weld materials typiin ductility between tests compared to cally shows very little wrought monolithic material of the same change when comparing alloy.27 This is mainly due to the fact that the monolithic-material the weld materials have a cast microchemistry to the weldstructure, which is generally known to material chemistry. Figpossess less ductility than a wrought ure 4 shows comparisons microstructure. The ductility of the weld of the chemical analysis material in TWBs for an automotive of the center of the weld stamping application is a very impormaterial and the chemitant characteristic. The weld material is cal analysis of the monosubjected to significant plastic deformalithic sheet immediately tion during stamping and, thus, must adjacent to the weld for a 1 mm possess enough ductility and reliability GTA-welded and an to avoid failure and ensure a successful NVEB aluminum TWB. Figure 2. A cross section through the weld looking normal to the application. The chemical analysis axis of the weld length. Portions of monolithic sheet material are Many studies have been conducted to was performed on a sigshown on either side of the weld. The specimen was anodized determine the limits of formability that nificant volume of mateto expose structure. different TWB populations possess. The rial (1020 g); therefore, work of Venkat et al.2 reported tensile it is believed to be a good average chemfigure shows three distinct structures, elongations of laser-welded AA5754-O istry for the two regions. To support with a portion of the wrought, fine-grain approaching the elongation of the parthese figures, extensive chemical analymonolithic sheet visible on either side of ent monolithic material. However, they sis of the weld materials has proven that the weld in the center of the figure. The also reported that similar welds of 6111no significant loss of the alloying elemicrostructure shows relatively large T4 achieved elongations of 8.618.7%, ments has been observed in either NVEB equiaxed grains in the center region of where the parent monolithic material or GTAW techniques of the subject work. the weld and grains with a high-aspect achieved 26%. Other authors have reFigure 4b also illustrates that the weld ratio bordering the monolithic material. ported a limited number, and, in many material of dissimilar alloy sheet materiThe elongated grains are thought to recases, single tests, so that it is difficult to als does create some average chemistry sult from directional-solidification phegage what level of variation they would between the two materials. The loss of nomenon. experience if multiple tests were conalloying elements has been reported for Figure 3 is an illustration of sections some laser techniques, althrough three different GTA welds along though some recent rethe length of the weld material. The dark ports suggest the alloyregion in Figure 3a illustrates the shape ing elements may be reof the weld zone that was liquid during tained during laser weldwelding. Figures 3b and 3c represent a ing under controlled contypical section and a section exposing a ditions.1,2 Closer inspeclarge weld void, respectively. From these, a few important observations can be tion of the subject matemade that define some of the difficulties rials via scanning elecfaced with trying to predict the defortron microscopy (SEM) mation behavior of aluminum TWB weld and energy dispersive material during stamping operations. spectroscopy has shown a The micrographs in Figure 3 show that although the bulk that the produced weld has a continuchemistry is similar, alally varying thickness across its width. loying elements may not This variation in geometry across the be homogeneously disweld creates nonuniform stress graditributed throughout the ents during external loading, thereby material. The SEM work producing a nonuniform strain gradient has also shown that the across the geometry of the weld. Ansize and shape of the secother observation is that weld voids and ond-phase particles are subsurface imperfections may be crealso significantly altered. ated under many welding conditions. WELD METAL Many investigators of aluminum weld DUCTILITY materials report this type of weld porosb DURING UNIAXIAL 14 ity, and the voids may be more or less TESTING prevalent using different welding pracAlthough chemistry tices. These voids will also serve to creand geometry are signifiate strain gradients within the weld cant aspects of aluminum material upon application of external TWBs, the ductility of the loading. These features serve to compliweld material is of major cate the analysis of weld formability by interest, enabling the surdictating a nonuniform strain developvival of the TWB during ment across the weld under applied exstamping operations. ternal loading. Although these geometThe experimental results ric features differentiate the material of uniaxial tensile tests from the monolithic material, other feac conducted on aluminum tures of the weld material prove to be Figure 3. Cross sections through TWBs viewed along the length TWBs typically prove similar to the monolithic material. of the weld showing (a) etched section displaying weld geomthat the weld material is The chemical composition of the subetry, (b) a typical section, and (c) weld porosity. 1999 November JOM 47

to parent monolithic sheet. The results in Figure 5 are not an isolated case. Multiple miniature specimens from multiplealloy populations have proven the ability to match or nearly match the parent monolithic strain levels at failure. The full-size monolithic specimen is included in Figure 5 to illustrate the fact that the miniature specimens used correlate well with standard size specimens. Since small sections of weld can achieve strains identical to parent monolithic material, a study was undertaken to quantify the theoretical effects of weld porosity. THEORETICAL EFFECTS OF WELD POROSITY ON DUCTILITY The existence of weld voids or porosity in the weld material results in areas of reduced material cross section. This reduction may have a significant implication on the weld-material ductility. This work focuses on providing a numerical model to describe the effects of weld porosity on the uniaxial tensile properties of TWB weld materials and making a statistical analysis of the effects of porosity on tensile properties. The results of nondestructive radiography are used to statistically describe the void size and predicted number of voids that occurs in each tensile specimen. The maximum level of imperfection that exists in the gage area as a result of the void(s) is then qualified and a tensile-instability model is used to predict the true strain achieved at failure. The end result is a theoretical probability density function describing the mean level of true strain achievable in the population and the level of variation expected about the mean. The general model chosen for predicting the tensile instability of the weld material was presented by Hart8 and was later discussed and demonstrated by Ghosh.9 The model is based upon the assumption of the existence of an initial imperfection in the gage area of the tensile specimen, which is the cause for and site of strain localization during testing. The initial geometric imperfection that represents the concept of a spherical void in a rectangular cross section is shown in Figure 6. The terminology associated with the model can also be seen in Figure 6, which theorizes that two separate regions exist in the gage area. The first region is the homogeneous region that consists of a uniform gage areathe area without the weld void in the model. The second region is an area of imperfection that represents the area of reduced cross section that is the assumed site of failure during testing. The reduced cross section in this model case is the result of a weld void. It is important to note that the model is essentially one-dimensional, so that any effects of neck diffusion and the radii joining the homogeneous and imperfection regions are ignored. In Figure

6, the definition of a variable quantifying the level of initial imperfection, f, is presented. This is a ratio of cross-sectional areas of the imperfection region and homogeneous region. The existence of this quantifiable geometric imperfection allows for the model development of tensile instability. The process of model development involves the observation that during the quasistatic analysis, the axial load supported across the homogeneous and imperfection cross-sectional areas of the tensile specimen must be equal. Since the axial loads in the two regions are equal and the cross-sectional areas of the two regions differ, the stress levels in the two regions are not equal. Writing an equation for axial-load equilibrium during the tensile test yields i fA o e i = h A o e h (1)

b Figure 4. Chemical composition of (a) GTAwelded and (b) NVEB-welded aluminum TWBs.

ducted on the same population. The authors recently conducted a study of a significant number of weld-material tensile samples on two different weld populations.7 In this work, it is shown that different weld methods may lead to different levels of average true strain at failure and different ranges of variation around that average. There are many considerations relative to aluminum TWBs and their associated mechanical properties. This is particularly true when discussing the use of 6000 series materials in aluminum TWB materials. The introduction of welding has the potential effect of altering the strength and ductility of the TWB. Nonheat-treatable materials supplied in the forming temper (O-temper or H-111) experience a small drop at most in yield strength during welding. The small strength drop may be related to some stress-relieving of minor work hardening introduced by commercial leveling. As expected, the heat-treatable materials have a more drastic and varied response due to the overaging or resolutionizing effect of the heat from the welding process. Figure 5 contains the results of uniaxial tensile testing of two miniature tensile specimens and one ASTM A517 specimen with a 12.7 mm gage. The two miniature specimens had a gage area of 0.04 mm2. One of the miniature specimens was prepared from the center of the weld and the other from the parent monolithic sheet. The miniature specimens show that for the subject GTAW process, yield strength, strain-hardening response, and true strain at failure can be achieved in weld material similar 48

where i , i and h, h represent the stresses and strains inside and outside the imperfection region, respectively, and Ao represents the original cross-sectional area in the homogeneous region. A constitutive law can describe the relationship between stress and strain. The constitutive relation chosen is m = Kn (2) where n and m are the strain-hardening coefficient and strain-rate sensitivity, respectively, and K refers to a strength coefficient. The strain-rate sensitivity of AA5182 aluminum alloy is reportedly very near zero and is assumed to be zero for the balance of the work. Combining Equations 1 and 2 and eliminating dependence on strain rate yields (3) h n h fe i n i = e The relationship shown in Equation 3 is the fundamental relation between the initial damage level, the strain-hardening exponent, and the strain both inside and outside of the imperfection region according to the current model. The application of Equation 3 involves choosing values for both n and f that represent the materials of interest and numerically

Figure 5. Tensile results of miniature tensile specimens taken from the monolithic and weld material compared to the results of a standard ASTM A517 (12.7 mm gage width) tensile test.

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solving the equation to obtain the relationship between i and h. This relationship between strain inside and outside the imperfection region can be used to predict failure in a uniaxial tensile specimen. Localization and failure are defined as the point where further uniaxial elongation in a specimen results in a plastic strain in the imperfection region ten times higher than the plastic strain in the homogeneous region. Figure 7 illustrates the effects of weld porosity size on the imperfection level. The homogeneous gage area of the tensile specimen was taken to be the same size as the weld cross section, 6.75 mm2. Based on the miniature weld specimen data shown in Figure 5, a strainhardening exponent of 0.26 was determined for the weld material. Using this strain-hardening value and Equation 3, the predicted true strain to failure as a function of imperfection level f is shown in Figure 7. It is important to note that increasing the cross-sectional size of the specimen beyond the 6.75 mm2 of the weld would effectively bridge the weld imperfections with monolithic material and thereby increase the theoretical strain at failure. To help prove the validity of the model, a series of tensile specimens was produced by drilling different sized holes in a series of full-size monolithic specimens. Changing the hole sizes in a standard 12.7 mm wide gage specimen enabled the investigation of varying levels of damage on true strain at failure. These experimental results are also shown in Figure 7. With this relation now established, the effect of a particular weld void in the cross section of the weld is theoretically established under longitudinal tensile testing conditions. The distribution of weld void sizes and the number of occurrences per inch of weld were investigated for two different populations of TWBs. One population was chosen that had a relatively high number of voids; a second population with a significantly lower number of voids was also chosen. These populations were named first-generation and second-generation materials, respectively. Through nondestructive radiography and optical measurement of voids under magnification, two histograms il-

Figure 7. The relationship between void size, imperfection level, and true strain at failure. The shapes of the voids are assumed spherical in the relation shown.

lustrating the size and number of occurrences of the size were compiled. Figure 8 is an illustration of the histograms, with a log-normal probability density function calculated for each of the respective data sets. The two populations show a remarkably similar distribution of sizes despite the fact that one population was produced via NVEB welding and the other via GTAW. The major difference in the two populations is that the second-generation GTAW specimens had 110 voids in 12.7 meters of weld, and the first-generation EBW specimens had 108 voids in just 0.22 meters of weld. Based on these numbers of voids per length of weld, the average number of voids expected in a single 50.8 mm gage length specimen may be calculated. The first-generation NVEB welds would have an average of 24 voids per 50.8 mm gage length. The second-generation GTA welds would have a 44.4% chance of having a single void in any randomly selected gage length of 50.8 mm. It is important to note that the two different weld methods illustrating a high and low number of voids per inch were arbitrary. A generalization that the NVEB method always produces a higher number of voids per inch is neither intended nor generally valid. The anticipated tensile properties of two arbitrary populations of 1,000 theoretical specimens for each of the two materials whose void distribution were characterized above were modeled. Each specimen has a cross-sectional area of 6.75 mm2, which was chosen such that it is the same size as the average weld cross-sectional area. Each specimen has a gage length of 50.8 mm. The goal is to determine the theoretical distribution of the true strain at failure that results in each population based on the tensileinstability model and void-probability density functions presented previously. For the first-genFigure 6. The geometric imperfection in the gage area of a eration welded speciuniaxial specimen containing weld material. 1999 November JOM

mens, 24 voids were randomly generated from the log-normal distribution that described that void size. The largest of these voids was deemed the critical flaw and used in the subsequent calculation of achievable true strain. For the second-generation welded specimens, 444 of the 1,000 theoretical specimens contained a single void whose size was randomly determined from the log-normal distribution of void size. These 444 specimens had only one flaw, and the remaining 556 specimens contained no weld porosity. Since the tensile-instability model asymptotically approaches infinite strain at failure for f = 1, a small amount of nominal imperfection was imposed on all 2,000 theoretical specimens. The nominal imperfection level had a mean value of f = 0.99, and it was normally distributed with a standard deviation of 0.03. This level of damage is consistent with values typically used and experimentally verified with high-quality wrought materials. For each of the 2,000 theoretical specimens, a value of nominal imperfection was randomly generated based on the above normal distribution. This value was then multiplied by the damage resulting from the critical void in the specimen cross section to establish a level of imperfection that would be used to determine the true strain at failure. Based on the scenario above, 1,000

Figure 8. Experimentally determined histogram and probability-density functions representing the weld void sizes determined via radiography. The probability densities shown are log-normal distributions.

Figure 9. Histograms and probability-density functions of simulated populations generated by combining the tensile-instability model with the void density and probability-density function.

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Figure 10. The theoretically predicted probability density and cumulative probability distribution of true strain to failure for the two subject weld populations.

theoretical true strains at failure during longitudinal uniaxial tensile testing were predicted for each population. The theoretical histogram and probability density function for both populations are illustrated in Figure 9. The second-generation GTA-welded population actually generates two distributionsone of 444 that had voids and the other 556 specimens that had purely the distribution from nominal imperfection level. The predicted true strains at failure of the first generation are substantially lower than the second generation, and the normal probability-density function that is shown in Figure 9 approximates the shape of the distribution fairly well. Figure 9 also illustrates three prob-

ability-density functions associated with the GTAW, second-generation weld materials. These three functions consist of two normal probability-density functions describing the samples with and without voids and the combined probability-density function that takes on a unique shape. In Figure 9, it can be seen theoretically that even though the weld materials may follow the same constitutive law and have the same geometry, the number of voids and the size of the voids may have a significant influence on the tensile properties. Figure 10 reillustrates the theoretically determined probability-density functions describing true strain at failure for each of the two subject weld populations. Figure 10 also shows the cumulative probability-distribution functions that describe the likelihood that a single tensile specimen selected from either population will fail at any given value of true strain. For the firstgeneration weld materials, there is a 3% chance the specimen will fail at or below a true strain of 0.04. For the secondgeneration weld materials, there is a 3% chance the specimen will fail at or below a true strain of 0.13. In testing a specimen to a true strain of 0.15, there would be 12% likelihood of failure in the second-generation material and 99% likelihood of failure in the first-generation material. These results emphasize the
lytic cell anode by feeding H2 to the anode. By doing so, the following anode reaction would take place: 2Cl + H2(g) = 2HCl(g) + 2e If the reaction proceeded as it is expected to, it would lead to a lower decomposition voltage and the in-situ formation of HCl. Testwork on a laboratory cell was carried out by Hydro-Quebec research laboratory on behalf of Cellmag. A molten salt electrolyte was used throughout. A reduction in the voltage necessary for magnesium production was observed, and HCl was directly produced in the anode. Although further testwork and optimization will be required for commercialization, Cellmag is planning a pilot plant for further investigation. The impacts of the technology could be significant on both operation and investment costs. It is suggested that due to the decrease in decomposition voltage, a possible reduction of up to 25% in electricity consumption for magnesium production could be reached. Another major savings comes from the fact that the cell is producing HCl instead of chlorine, which eliminates the substantial capital requirement for HCl synthesis necessary for nonchloride-based ores. Moreover, positive environmental impacts may be forecasted from the reduced energy consumption and reduced production of residual sludge as well as deleterious chlorinated hydrocarbons.

potential importance of minimizing weld porosity if ductility is to be reliably maintained. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is operated by Battelle Memorial Institute for the U.S. Department of Energy under contract DE-AC06-76RLO 1830. References
1. J.M. Story, S. Heinemann, and S. Naefeler, Light Metal Age (October 1998), pp. 4047. 2. S. Venkat et al., Welding Journal, 76 (7) (July 1997), pp. 2755 2825. 3. P. Martin et al., Proc. Int. Symp. Light Metals 1998, ed. M. Sahoo and C. Fradet (Montreal: CIM 1998), pp. 409423. 4. M.C. Stasik and R.H. Wagoner, Aluminum and Magnesium for Automotive Applications, ed. J.D. Bryant (Warrendale, PA: TMS, 1996), pp. 6983. 5. E.R. Pickering et al., SAE technical paper #950722 (Warrendale, PA: SAE, 1995). 6. M.J. Saran et al., Materials and Body Testing (Warrendale, PA: SAE, IBEC, 1995), pp. 120124. 7. R.W. Davies et al., A Damage Model to Describe Weld Metal Ductility in Aluminum Tailor Welded Blanks, submitted to Materials and Metallurgical Transactions A (July 1999). 8. E.W. Hart, Acta Metal., 15 (1967), pp. 351355. 9. A.K. Ghosh, Acta Metal., 25 (1977), pp. 14131424.

R.W. Davies is a senior development engineer at Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. H.E. Oliver is a team leader of product engineering and technology, Corporate Research Division, Reynolds Metals Company. M.T. Smith is a technical group manager at Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. G.J. Grant is an M.S. candidate in the Materials Engineering Department of Washington State University. For more information, contact R.W. Davies, Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, 902 Battelle Blvd., P.O. Box 999, MSIN: P8-35, Richland, Washington 99352; (509) 376-5035; fax (509) 376-6034; e-mail Rich.Davies@pnl.gov.

News (Continued from page 38.) ventional processes. In a process developed at Battelle Memorial Institute and patented by Transmet Corporation, a form of rapid solidification technology is used to quench the molten metal in a fraction of a second, resulting in a solid particle. The process allows the formation of products characterized by unique alloy combinations, homogeneity, finely divided grain structure, and particle geometry. Using aluminum flakes for thermally conductive, composite fillers has several advantages. The resulting compounds dissipate heat more efficiently from the mold; reduce cycle time through faster cooling; are adaptable to large formats, such as vehicle-instrument panels; and optimize design/shape options, low-cost fabrication, and corrosion resistance. Blends utilize epoxies, nylon, polycarbonates, polyesters, polypropylenes, and polysulfones. Aluminum flakes also enhance electromagnetic shielding capability in composites.
Electrolysis Process Offers Alternative Method for Producing Magnesium
Cellmag has developed an alternative, energy-efficient method for producing magnesium by electrolysis. The technology is based on research conducted by Gus Van Weert, the inventor. Van Weert suggested that HCl gas could be formed instead of Cl2 gas at the electro-

IMA Seeks Proposals for Alternatives to SF6 and SO2 in Mg Melt Protection
The International Magnesium Association (IMA) is seeking research proposals to identify commercially practical alternatives to the addition of SF6 and SO2 for melt protection in magnesium production. Unlike aluminum and zinc, magnesium possesses a significant vapor pressure at the melt temperatures normally employed in refining and casting. At its melting point (650C), the pure metal possess a vapor pressure of 3 mm Hg, which, combined with the metals reactivity, results in active oxidation of the melt surface in air. The addition of small amounts of SF6 to the atmosphere, however, alters the protective film and dramatically reduces the oxidation rate. The use of SF6-air-CO2 blends containing 0.11 percent SF6 has provided excellent melt protection of magnesium alloys used in die-casting foundries for more than 20 years. But since the mid-1990s, growing environmental concerns have encouraged the identification of an alternative method of oxidation control. The only known alternative is SO2-air mixtures. The high toxicity of this gas and its contribution to acid rain makes its use undesirable as a longterm solution. Proposals should be submitted in abstract form of 250 words or less via e-mail to jim.hollis@norandamagnesium.com by December 1. Additional information can be found at www. intlmag.org.

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