Unique Tool & Gauge (Windsor, ON) and Alcan Aluminum, a global supplier of aluminum for a variety of industries including moldmaking, collaborated on a mold for front wheel-well liners for a high-volume sedan that is produced in the U.S. The 11,000-lb forging of Alumold 500 measured 70 x 52 x 31 inches, and is the largest forging ever done in 7000 Series aluminum, according to Alcan’s Manager of Customer Applications Engineering, Dan Popescu.
Darcy King, president of Unique Tool & Gauge, said, “We’ve had huge success with 7000 Series aluminum grades, and Alcan’s work in producing larger block sizes on their Alumold 500 product is going to open up new applications areas for production aluminum tooling for us. Our automotive customers stand to realize considerable savings if this program remains successful.”
Alcan’s Popescu said that while the company has never done a forging that large before, and they had some natural concerns, Alcan’s experience in forging blocks with thicknesses up to 27 inches, gave them the confidence that the company could go bigger. “It’s really a combination of designing the right alloy that will behave properly and that will also retain its properties under stringent processing conditions,” he said.
The project involved a lot of teamwork between Alcan, Unique Tool, and the automotive OEM customer, which has experience with aluminum molds on previous tooling projects. King says that Unique would have never suggested a tool like this for a “first” aluminum tool for a major OEM. Because Unique and the automotive OEM had worked together in the past on aluminum tooling, “they were comfortable and we were comfortable” with the process, he says. “The main factor for the OEM in choosing aluminum for the wheel-well liners was cycle-time reduction,” King further explains. “For them, over the life time of this vehicle, there’s a significant amount of savings in cycle time through better heat transference, among other things.”
King believes that the ability of Alcan to forge huge blocks of aluminum and moldmakers’ expertise in machining high-volume production molds that can replace P20 steel is a major advancement for North American moldmakers. “Our experience working with aluminum has effectively proven the cost and productivity advantages of aluminum for automotive production tools,” King said. “Now our company has driven aluminum tooling technology to the next level through our work with Alcan.” —Clare Goldsberry