Steel: Beyond the Body

When most people think of a vehicle using high-strength steel, two areas usually come to mind: the exterior panels and the vehicle’s frame. That’s no surprise, since they’re two of the areas where high-strength steel makes the biggest impact on a vehicle’s weight and performance. However, it’s time we start looking beyond the body for areas where high-strength steel provides value.

Steel has been crucial to the automotive industry since its inception. Most critical vehicle components are made out of steel, and years of collaboration between the steel industry and the auto industry has accelerated innovation in both. As automakers continue to look for ways to make their vehicles lighter while maintaining or improving performance, the steel industry continues to create improved, higher tensile strength grades of steel even in places the average consumer doesn’t normally think about when purchasing a vehicle.

Today’s automakers love touting their vehicles’ high-strength steel makeup, however, they love talking about their vehicles’ engines even more. Internal combustion engines are made up of thousands of individual parts all moving in perfect harmony to create the force that propels a vehicle. From pistons to valves, connecting rods to cam shafts, many components of a vehicle’s engine are made of steel due to the extremely high temperatures and intense loads an engine produces. The steel industry has responded to market demands by supplying newer grades of steel to make these parts, allowing automakers to maintain and improve part durability and performance while reducing size and weight. This allows the vehicle to go further than before using the same amount of fuel!

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All that effort to make a vehicle go in a straight line is fine – if you’re a drag racer. What about the components that make a vehicle turn? Good news, high-strength steel helps steering systems too. Rack-and-pinion parts (the system moved by the steering wheel to turn the front wheels) and suspension components (how the vehicle is connected to its wheels) are other key areas where high-strength steel makes a difference. Because of the intense demands required of these systems – especially in terms of safety – only the most durable, effective materials will make the cut. That’s where the innovation of the steel industry comes in. Since high-strength steels have a wide range of formability and strength, automakers can create torsion bars, stabilizers, steering racks and more to the exact specifications required for both safety and performance. Automakers are continuing to find new ways to create better steering and suspension components out of high-strength steels. We can’t wait for what’s next!

Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about the transmission. How does high-strength steel affect the gearbox? As a critical component of a vehicle’s drivetrain, the transmission ensures a vehicle is using the right amount of power given the speed, terrain and how much load the vehicle is carrying. Transmission failures have frustrated drivers and repair shops alike, so it’s a relief to know that carmakers are making transmissions more durable by increasing their use of ultra- and advanced high-strength steel. Gears, shafts and clutches alike are seeing the benefits of high-strength steel’s fatigue resistance, with lighter weight as an added bonus!

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That lighter weight is also making it easier on the driveshaft, which itself is seeing more use of durable high-strength steel. The rods and differential gears that move power from the engine to the transmission are key contributors to the weight of a vehicle, in addition to being a vital part of a vehicle’s ability to perform. Downsizing and reducing the mass of driveshaft components while maintaining or improving the vehicle’s overall performance remains a focus of today’s researchers.

Steel really can be used in a variety of ways in the automotive industry. Its durability and reliability make a significant difference – and the industry is taking notice. Each vehicle provides the opportunity for engineers, designers and researchers to learn more about high-strength steels and how to best use them in a vehicle. From its current uses to its future applications, the steel industry is committed to maintaining steel’s status as the best material for the automotive industry!

Did any components surprise you? Let us know in the comments!

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