With gas prices spiking and the eco-movement hitting the pavement faster than you can say, “hybrid SUV,” it’s no wonder auto manufacturers are looking for new ways to lighten the weight of their vehicles.
It’s also little wonder that researchers around the world, including José Imbert, a Waterloo mechanical and mechatronics engineering lecturer and doctoral candidate, are dreaming up new ways to make it happen.
For six years José has been studying something called electromagnetic forming to force-form sheet metal at incredibly high speeds. Using electromagnetic force, magnetic fields are generated that repel each other to twist and sculpt sheet metal into desired shapes.
How fast does it happen? Think 100 metres per second.
“It just happens so quickly you can’t see any of the forming. You hit the button and it’s instantaneous,” he says.
Traditionally, pieces of metal are formed by stamping, driving two pieces of metal together to create the third between them. The technique works well for heavier, more robust metals such as low-carbon steel used in most cars, but aluminum tends to tear or deform during spring back, says José.
He hopes eventually the gentler touch of electromagnetic forming will help fix that problem and lighter aluminum will be used in vehicles in order to reduce fuel consumption. And now that the University of Waterloo has purchased its own equipment Imbert is able to work faster and more efficiently himself.
“Now we don’t have to go down to Detroit. We have everything we need here, which is very convenient,” he says.