June 2, 2005 Mazda has developed the world’s first direct spot joining technology to join steel and aluminum. Mazda has applied for more than 20 patents related to this process which was first employed in 2003 in the development of the Mazda RX-8 sports car that used friction heat to join separate aluminum sheets. The technology has evolved, and will be used to join the trunk lid and bolt retainer for the all-new Mazda MX-5 sports car that is scheduled to go on sale in Australia about October.
Until now welding two different metals such as steel and aluminum has been a difficult task. However, by optimising the rotating tool shape and joining characteristics, and by using galvanized steel on one side, joining steel and aluminum has been made possible.
The process is similar to that of joining two pieces of aluminum, when a joining gun holds the parts from both sides with a welding tool. The joining tool is then made to spin while force is applied, which in turn generates frictional heat that subsequently joins the aluminum materials to the steel sheet metal.
Galvanized steel helps prevent the galvanic corrosion that results from the contact of two different types of metal.
Compared with conventional joining techniques such as riveting or clinching, steel and aluminum spot friction welding makes it easier to join materials that are difficult to deform, such as aluminum casting and high tensile steel. Additionally, running costs can be reduced because riveting becomes unnecessary.
This innovative technology makes it simple to join steel and aluminum, and improves the potential of coupling aluminum parts to steel in vehicle bodies, and has other applications in a wide range of industrial uses.
The technology contributed significantly to Mazda’s vehicle weight reduction “gram strategy” program during the development of the MX-5 sports car, as well as lowering costs.