Companies across all industries are increasingly trying to balance incorporating more sustainable manufacturing practices while keeping production costs low.
For those manufacturing components out of metal, hydroforming offers a solution to both enhance sustainability and maintain the bottom line.
Whereas other component production methods may require welding various pieces of metal together to form complex shapes, hydroforming can produce the shape as a single unit by using fluid pressure rather than a punch. Not only does this save significant material, but it also results in a stronger component because it does not utilize joints. The finished product is also lighter in weight without the addition of flanges for welding.
Both the automotive and aviation sectors have found hydroforming incredibly useful. It’s an ideal way for both industries to improve their eco-friendly profiles, reduce waste, and produce lighter-weight machines to improve fuel efficiency, another important goal for automotive and aviation sustainability.
Vehicle manufacturers are always looking for ways to make machines lighter without sacrificing strength and stability. Hydroforming gives them the opportunity to create lighter vehicles and improve fuel efficiency while still maintaining safety and reducing costs, savings which can be passed along to the consumer, as well. The process also opens the door to new design opportunities unrestricted by the limitations of welding or other joining methods.
Airplanes require precise, complex components. With hydroforming, manufacturers can meet the strictest component requirements and replicate that precision on a large scale from piece to piece, even with complex shapes such as engine components, fuel tanks, and doors. The process also works with the special materials often required by aerospace applications, such as aluminum alloys, titanium, and nickel alloy. As in the automotive industry, the lighter, stronger components allow for lighter machines and greater fuel efficiency.
Hydroforming isn’t exactly new—it’s already in use all over the world. Chrysler creates nearly three million components per year using hydroforming, while Ford and General Motors both use the process for some of their European models. However, there is still plenty of room to grow.
Not every designer and engineer understands hydroforming’s potential for sustainable manufacturing and cost savings. For those who have long worked with press tools, it’s not always easy to see how a different method might be more efficient — particularly if they need to learn new skills in order to implement it. The utilization of hydroforming in production must start in the design phase as designs for hydroforming are different than standard press designs.
As more industry stakeholders come to realize how hydroforming can positively impact their operations, it will no doubt become more common.
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