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Eight things to know about the aluminum intensive 2017 Audi Q7 and R8

Sunday, October 1, 2017 - 07:00
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Fans of the “Jurassic Park” franchise are all too familiar with the movies’ message about scientific innovation moving too fast. To quote one character wagging his finger at the park founder, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.”

That’s the stuff of science fiction movies, but it could also describe a section of the collision repair industry that wonders why automakers seem to work so much harder imagining new designs than figuring out affordable ways to fix them. Judging by a recent I-CAR study showing more than 66 percent of shops not engaging in ongoing training programs, an even larger part of the repair industry isn’t overly concerned with how it will repair these vehicles—for now anyways.

All that needs to change and quickly since indications are that the collision repair industry is about to undergo a revolution where tomorrow’s designs will forever change how all repairers do business. Enter the 2017 Audi Q7 and A8, two redesigned aluminum-intensive luxury vehicles whose hybrid material engineering is help lay the groundwork for how vehicles will be repaired in the decades to come.

(Photos courtesy of Audi media) The 2017 Audi Q7 and A8 benefit from significant reductions in weight and increased structural rigidity thanks to extensive use of advanced steels and aluminum. The Q7 shed 716 pounds from the previous model.

Skeptical? Step inside the new world of collision work as ABRN breaks down the eight realities Audi’s latest creations will be bringing to your doors in the next several years.

Hybrid happenings
Not all that long ago, repairers were forced to pause and take a renewed look at their work when automakers began mixing traditional steels and UHSS. Identifying advanced steels and performing recommended repairs proved to be a challenging task for shops until manufacturers provided more up-to-date guidance on handling these cutting-edge materials. The Q7 and A8 considerably raise the stakes in the materials game by using a combination of four different steels and three aluminums in their body structures alone:

  • Soft steel
  • High strength steel
  • Advanced high strength steel
  • UHSS (hot formed)
  • Aluminum casting
  • Aluminum profile, and
  • Sheet aluminum.

The Q7 uses a mix of 51 percent steel and 49 percent aluminum in its body, out pacing similar hybrid mixes in the industry and arguably planting a new standard for other automakers to look to.

Aluminum assimilation
Finishing out its form, the Q7 also includes a full aluminum hood, roof doors and hatch. The four aluminum doors each lost nearly 52 pounds. Together with the advanced steels, aluminum helped the new Q7 shed 716 pounds from the previous generation. The previous Q7 weighed 5,000 pounds so it effectively cut 14 percent of its mass. The A8 further ups aluminum ante even higher with a body structure that’s nearly 58 percent aluminum.

Alternative answers
The A8 also makes extensive use of other materials, most notably magnesium and carbon fiber (which finds a home in the Q7’s seat dividers, along with nearby areas). Audi says the A8’s front front-brace linking and strut towers are magnesium while the largest portion of the passenger cage is a carbon-fiber rear panel. Not only do the two materials cut weight (with Magnesium usage alone providing a 28 percent weight saving in place of traditional materials), they also produce greater rigidity for a more comfortable ride, improved handing and better acoustics. Audi says carbon fiber provides 33 percent of the torsional rigidity for the entire vehicle.

Bonding breakthroughs
The use of hybrid parts required Audi to increase the number of different bonding solutions that could join different materials. The Q7 features 11 different joining types, including:

  • Resistance spot welding for steel to steel and aluminum to aluminum bonds
  • MIG welding
  • MAG welding
  • Structural adhesives
  • Friction element welding (A rotating friction element penetrates the upper aluminum layer and then produces a frictional joint with the basic material--UHSS hot-shaped steel—through the application of frictional heat and high axial pressure.)
  • Clinching
  • Roller hemming (which allowed Audi to raise door height in the A8 by 1.8 inches)
  • Punch Riveting (using a hollow rivet to connect UHSS hot-formed parts), and
  • Friction element welding.

The A8 adds three more bonding types to its mix, including laser and MAG (metal active gas) welds and grip-punch rivets.

(Photo courtesy of Audi media) Because of the use of multiple materials, both Audis used a variety of joining types. The Q7 features 11 different kinds of bonds and the A8 11.

This means shops wanting to repair the two Audis will need to be trained in these areas—at least the ones that are accessible to collision repairers. According to Audi Collision Repair Program Manager Mark Allen, some of the joining methods can only be performed by advanced, extremely expensive machining equipment at Audi manufacturing facilities. Should these bonds need to be recreated during a collision repair, shops must follow Audi guidelines to build a suitable replacement bond, which in many cases will involve utilizing a rivet to attach UHSS to aluminum.

Exponential investments
Typically, the only shops needing the training to do this work would be part of an Audi certification program since only those shops can order structural parts. Being part of these programs remains expensive. Allen places the cost of a clean room and Audi approved tools for aluminum repair around $90,000. The industry is finding such an investment more acceptable since it can be utilized as part of multiple certification programs.

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