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WITH EASE - 20 years of ALU-CAR

In 2020, csi was 25 years old and ALU-CAR 20 years old.

We are looking forward to celebrating this together soon! As well as the relocation of ALU-CAR to a new office (which unfortunately is taking a little longer than planned due to corona).


For an engineering partner to the automotive industry, there is hardly a location which is further removed from potential customers than Winterberg in North Rhein Westphalia: it‘s almost 300 kilometres to Neckarsulm, around 460 kilometres to Ingolstadt and roughly 530 kilometres to Munich. Nonetheless, in 2000, the ALU-CAR company founders decided to open their small design office for body work development precisely there. It was certainly unusual, not least because communication methods 20 years ago still differed significantly from those of today: Fax and telephone were the means of choice, e-mails, at least initially, were still something exotic and video conferences with Teams were unthinkable - not least because there were no broadband cables. Even though exchanging data and information was difficult at the time, we know today at the latest, 20 years later, that the courage to take the risk paid out. However, perhaps it was also precisely this distance from the customer that benefitted the ALU-CAR team. It gave them the freedom that the lightweight construction specialists needed to consider things with some distance, with a completely fresh and different approach. Who knows. One thing is certain: the small, dynamic team made a name for itself in no time at all and ALU-CAR was able to win projects in VW research and with AUDI. Today, ALU-CAR is a renowned specialist in lightweight construction and its expertise are in higher demand than ever. Because lightweight construction is one of the central keys to more sustainability in the automotive sector and the body work architecture ALU-CAR has helped to develop enables the integration of the most varied drive variants - from diesel and petrol to gas combustion, electric battery and hydrogen, to hybrid. Thanks to the digital communication paths making further distances easy to bridge today, Winterberg edges ever more frequently into the centre stage of development activity. Since 2008, ALU-CAR has been a member of the csi Group and designed and developed body work architectures and vehicle structures under the leadership of Volker Merks since 2011.
THE PROPER BLEND. The times when body work was done entirely in steel are over. Today, structures in the premium segment in particular are shaped by an intensive blend of construction. Material combinations, including from steel, aluminium, magnesium and nonwoven fibre plastics, are now commonplace in the automotive industry and frequently found in sports and super sports cars, for example. Here, factors such as dynamics, stiffness, ergonomics, design, package and appearance can be more flexibly implemented with a multi-material mix. In addition, the material combination helps to bring down the weight again. This is urgently called for in order to meet the required CO2 savings. “However, lightweight construction is not just about the type of material chosen. You can also “build light“ conceptually with steel alone. Today, hot formed steel is used intensively, which can be shaped with significantly thinner walls and thereby also contribute to a weight reduction per se,” explains Volker Merks. “In some areas - such as in the survival area of the passenger compartment - the increased requirements on the body work can only be fulfilled by hot forming.”
WHAT A COINCIDENCE! However, the intensive mixed construction places the highest requirements on the selection of suitable joint techniques and the determination of sensible assembly sequences. That‘s why ALU-CAR decided to take the later manufacturing into consideration, even in the initial concepts. “The production has to have a sensible sequence at the end and run in a certain “rhythm“. You don’t put your jumper on over your coat when you go outside. It is similar with manufacturing,” compares Frank Kunert, head of development and who, just like Merks, has been with ALU-CAR from the start. “Individual components make up first smaller, then ever larger components and assemblies. So we consider from the start which equipment is required, how it is ordered with availability and which joint techniques are suitable.” All this - from the material recommendation to the joint technique for every material interface, to the analysis of what the manufacturing steps could look like - ultimately flows into the concept which ALU-CAR delivers. Constructing a product from this, which not only fulfils all the function and performance requirements, but at the same time can also be implemented in a secure process and economically, is at the core of modern, intelligent blended construction. A look at the ALU-CAR reference list shows that the lightweight construction specialist from Winterberg is a master of this process - from the first idea to the series-ready product.
EASILY MANUFACTURE OR PRODUCE LARGE SERIES OF SALOONS OR SUV, HYBRID OR FUEL CELL? If, like ALU-CAR, you want to offer your customers the development of tailored solutions with new ideas, constructive discussions and innovative concepts, you will need to begin with one thing above all else: a lot of questions. Because the better the briefing, the better the result - and also the path to reach it. For this reason, in the first step, a matrix is used to query all the factors which have an influence on the development of a body work concept. This starts with the type of drive, includes questions about the production volumes and cycle times and ends after many further aspects in points such as corrosion protection, structure rigidity, use of materials and even the aforementioned joint technique. The whole process runs exactly the same way for the development of battery housings. Although the questions may be a little different here: still, the solutions for the desired cooling concepts, cell technologies or high-voltage safety systems are no less complex and throw up new challenges for the ALU-CAR team every day.

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