Following two years of extensive process development, Corus Hyfo, part of the international metals company Corus, is celebrating its first volume production order to supply Tower Automotive with its laser-welded tubular product, the Hyfo Tubular Blank.

Using the world’s first laser-welded tubular blank machine, Corus Hyfo will supply Tower with the tubular blank for the hydroformed engine cradle of Fiat Auto’s new flagship, the Lancia Thesis, which goes on sale in the autumn in mainland European markets.

Commenting on Tower’s decision to use the Hyfo Tubular Blank, Maurice van Giezen of Corus Hyfo said: “Increasingly, innovative design and advanced engineering is becoming the key differentiator for carmakers today. The ability to form a single-piece component by hydroforming is not new. By using the Hyfo Tubular Blank however we were able to stretch the process further, which has accommodated Lancia engineers’ need to optimise the design of the engine cradle for strength and mass, with fewer parts required for assembly.”

The Hyfo Tubular Blank is the latest development in tube hydroforming, a component manufacturing technology that over the last few years is increasingly applied by vehicle manufacturers. As demonstrated by the international steel industry’s ULSAB-AVC Advanced Vehicle Concepts programme, hydroforming can be used by automotive engineers as a way to optimise future car designs with fewer components, helping to increase the strength and stiffness of critical parts, while contributing to reduced vehicle weight and therefore lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

Commenting on the anticipated growth in the use of hydroformed parts by carmakers Mr van Giezen said that independent market research has predicted market growth of 16 per cent annually: “Moreover, we expect that within 10 years laser-welded tubular blanks will represent 20 per cent of all hydroformed components as vehicle manufacturers begin to understand the additional benefits they have to offer.”

The first commercial order for Hyfo Tubular Blanks is also expected to boost their application in the North American market as well, where Corus Hyfo recently launched the venture with Novamerican Steel Inc. – Nova Hyfo.

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The Lancia Thesis engine cradle is formed from a modern high-strength steel grade DP350/600, dual-phase steel with a minimum yield strength of 350MPa and minimum ultimate tensile strength of 600 MPa. The engine cradle also benefits from the additional residual ductility afforded by the gentle forming process of the Hyfo Tubular Blank, one of four major characteristics of the product which also includes the ability to produce conical, tailored and large diameter thin-walled tubular blanks.

The Corus tubular blank machine will be operated from a new Competence Centre close to the company’s IJmuiden manufacturing facility in the Netherlands. Mr van Giezen said: “Our new site will be close to the engineering expertise of Corus’s Product Applications Centre which has already developed several hydroform applications of the Hyfo Tubular Blank .” Mr van Giezen added: “Being close to Amsterdam airport makes Corus Hyfo more easily accessible to our global customer base. We will also be better equipped to expand our hydroforming based product development activity and to develop dedicated tubular blanks for vehicle manufacturers.”