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Is Magnesium The Next Big Thing? Material Touted As Viable Alternative For Luxury Car Makers, Aerospace Industry

17 January 2017, 7:53 am EST By Kalyan Kumar Tech Times
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Setting a good example of industry-academia partnership, the researchers at Birmingham City University have signed a deal with Meridian — a leading manufacturer of magnesium components in the auto industry — to promote the use of magnesium as an alternative to many existing materials, including aluminum and steel.

The partnership with Meridian will give the academics from the Computing and Engineering department an opportunity to offer goods that cater to low-volume manufacturers in the auto and aviation sectors.

Since the end user industries have a problem with costs when it comes to using magnesium, the alliance will explore new methods to make its production more economic for Meridian as well as its clients.

Expansion Of User Base

By seeking to boost research and development on magnesium use, the alliance has set sustainability and weight savings as top objectives in achieving fuel efficiency.

"Birmingham City University is delighted to be entering into an agreement on magnesium research and education with Meridian, that builds on the heritage of the University as a catapult for growth among regional industries through knowledge transfer and offering a unique, interdisciplinary approach," said Professor Hanifa Shah, who is the Associate Dean of Faculty of Computing and Engineering at the Birmingham City University.

Advantage Of Magnesium

Thanks to the lightweight nature and its abundance on the earth, magnesium scores over aluminum and steel along with its unique 100 percent recyclable property. According to metallurgists, Magnesium is 75 percent lighter than steel and 33 percent lighter than aluminum.

Meridian, which produces 5,000 net metric tons of die-cast products a year in the UK plant, has been serving a vast clientele in automotive sector including Jaguar, BMW, Ford, Land Rover, Honda, and Volvo.

However, it has not been very successful in tapping the low volume market. A growing market with niche manufacturers, such as Aston Martin, Bentley, and Rolls-Royce, looking for bespoke magnesium components. The current manufacturing methods had been costly as tooling costs are up and not helping the small volume players much.

Now the partnership will aim to cut this hindrance and help in dipping into the nimble market of low volume auto makers and allied sectors like aviation.

Another core area of investigation will be the reduction of waste, as the current production process of magnesium creates product and waste in almost equal quantity.

The Magnesium Innovation Group will be looking at ways of creating value from the excess waste.

"Our partnership with Birmingham City University will certainly catalyze this, allowing us to benefit from its leading edge research in the field and ensuring that the next generation of engineers continue to experiment with new ways in which to utilize the metal," commented, Randy Chalmers, Plant Manager, Meridian Lightweight Technologies United Kingdom.

Magnesium Innovation Group

To take the project forward, the University has rolled out a Magnesium Innovation Group from the University and Meridian staff who are specialists in their respective domains.

A section of players in the auto industry, despite being convinced about the high utility of magnesium in instrument panels, are wary of the high costs in sourcing the material.

Previously, the United States, Canada, Australia, and the Middle East were top magnesium producers, noted Matt Zaluzec, Research and innovation technical advisor with Ford, while addressing the Automotive World's Megatrends USA.

Now, China is the new bulk supplier. Automakers are then facing issues like price swings and high import tariffs, added Zaluzec.

Positive Outlook On Adoption

However, a 2015 report by Lucintel has been bullish on adopting magnesium and said doing so on a global scale will deliver a compounded annual growth of 10.1 percent between 2015 and 2020.

"In this market, interior, powertrain, chassis, and exterior are the major application area of magnesium alloys material in a vehicle," the firm said.

In terms of demand, magnesium alloys in the exterior parts will enjoy the highest growth rate while those for chassis and interior segments will have a higher than average growth.

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