Shape Corporation of the USA has won the 20th international Swedish Steel Prize for groundbreaking use of martensitic steel in a 3D formed tube for automotive roof rail applications. The 3D roof rail tube, a new innovation that represents a first in the automotive industry, will result in both cost savings for OEMs and safer cars for the general public.
“With great skill, Shape Corp. has shown the way forward and has succeeded in efficiently utilising a modern material with the highest possible strength level. This shows a major opportunity in challenging other lightweight materials with a steel solution that allows for circular material flows,” said Eva Petursson, chair of the Swedish Steel Prize jury and head of SSAB’s research and innovation.
Shape Corp’s cost effective and robust manufacturing process for 3D shaped tubes made it possible to utilise the cold forming martensitic steel Docol 1700M, from SSAB, for a unique lightweight solution for A-pillar and roof rail tubes, with a minimal profile size. The components will soon be implemented in a number of Ford vehicles, including the 2020 Ford Explorer and 2020 Ford Escape.
“In the mid-2000s, we developed bending technology that could bend in one direction in the same plane, in line with our roll forming process. We called it 1D bending, and over the next few years this technology progressed to handling bending in two directions on the same plane – and then three directions. We call it 3D bending,” explained Brian Oxley, Product Manager at Shape Corp.
Thanks to 3D forming, instead of hydroforming, Shape Corp has succeeded in creating smaller profiles than traditional solutions, allowing for better driver visibility, more interior space as well as better packaging of airbags. The 3D-formed A-pillars also have an improved strength-to-weight ratio of over 50 percent, which has led to an overall mass reduction of 2.8 to 4.5 kg per vehicle.
Shape Corp says its highly innovative technology and use of steel has been proven viable within the global automotive industry and represents a major leap forward in both car safety and automotive design. “We have taken the highest strength steel on the market and combined it with the perfect application – a bit like pairing wine with food,” said Oxley. “The results are very tangible in terms of mass savings, but it also shows the industry what is possible with these advanced grades – and that steel will have a place in automotive for a long time to come.”
The Swedish Steel Prize, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, recognizes good engineering, cooperation and steel innovations that lead to a better and more sustainable world.
The other finalists, Austin Engineering from Australia, Kampag from Brazil and Roofit.solar from Estonia, were runners-up for the Swedish Steel Prize 2019.