BMW makes lighter, stronger parts
Gerhard Mauerer - Automotive News
DINGOLFING, Germany -- In the midst of the financial crisis, BMW AG is spending 50 million euros ($69.7 million) on an innovative press hardening operation at its plant here.
In all, the premium automaker plans to spend several hundred million euros in the plant in 2009 and 2010.
"Anyone who saves money in the wrong area in tough times is putting his competitiveness at risk over the long term," said Frank-Peter Arndt, BMW's production chief. "And I doubt that you can survive that way in the long run."
During "cutthroat competition," innovative technologies are more important than ever, Arndt said.
BMW will make high-strength body parts such as chassis beams and side skirts with the new press hardening process. It will be the first use of press hardening technology in the auto industry, BMW said. The technology makes it possible to construct high-strength components at lower weights.
The new process cuts vehicle weight by almost 51 pounds. This in turn shrinks fuel consumption by up to 0.1 liters per 100 kilometers driven, or just under half a cup of gasoline for every 62 miles driven.
The new technology contributes to BMW's "efficient dynamics" program, an effort to improve vehicle performance along a range of fronts.
The 5-series Gran Turismo will be the first model using these hardened components. Over the next three years, eight more new BMW models will incorporate components from the press hardening operation.
The Dingolfing press will supply BMW's factory network worldwide.
In the new press process, galvanized sheet steel is pressed cold before being heated to 1,670 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, still glowing red, the steel is placed in the new press equipment, which cools it to 158 degrees, hardening it.
Despite lower weight, the steel's strength is three to four times as great as untreated sheet steel.
The use of galvanized sheet steel also guarantees a high level of rust protection.
The process was developed with the steel technology company Voestal-pine Polynorm.
BMW is putting a second press hardening site into operation in late 2009. At that point, up to 100 employees will work at both hardening sites, covering three shifts.