Aluminium alloys are finding applications in many industrial sectors, thanks to their mechanical performance and the lightness. Worldwide interest in designing aluminium components bears witness to the need to sustain research committed to a more effective exploitation of this material. Aluminium alloys currently represent approximately 100kg of every car currently on the market, according to European Aluminium Association (EAA, see Fig.1) , and significant growth is expected over the next few years.
The development of activities aimed at extending the use of aluminium as a structural material to replace steel and/or cast iron, at designing aluminium components more precisely and at improving casting yield is strategic for the further diffusion of this material and would also result in added values, including reduced weight and decreased emission of pollutants.
The main technical objectives of the IDEAL project are the use of numerical codes in simulating the casting process with the prediction of the microstructural and mechanical behaviour of cast alloys, the optimisation of the manufacturing cycle and structural analysis, including the analysis of the crash behaviour of cast components. With current knowledge, the mechanical properties of a component are regarded as constants during the design stage while, in reality, all the properties of cast products change due to the different microstructural features produced by different cooling rates. Consider, for example, the effects induced by different wall thickness or by defects such as porosity and oxides, which have a great impact on performance [4-5]. Furthermore, residual stresses arising from the stages of manufacturing processes are often not included in the calculations, due to the difficulties of obtaining a reliable data. The first object of the project is therefore to obtain a reliable forecast of the mechanical characteristics directly from the casting simulation. Subsequently, this information is to be transferred as an input to the structural analysis codes, thus creating relatively realistic data from which to work.
Better knowledge of the correlations between microstructures resulting from processing and mechanical properties will help produce more correct definitions of the characteristic properties of casting alloys, which are currently given "for guidance only" in National and International Standards, without providing effective support to engineering design. .
Conventional heat treatment and innovative treatment technologies, such as Liquid Hot Isostatic Pressing (LHIP) are playing an increasing role in the aluminium foundry , and their potential will be also considered and implemented the integrated numerical code.
The development of an optimisation module integrated with simulation codes will facilitate the fast set up of the most suitable casting parameters while additionally reducing internal defects. Virtual optimisation of the process will minimize the expensive and time consuming "trial and error" iterations, and while practical hands on experience will never be neglected, such a tool will give valid support to the decisions taken at a work shop level.
By improving the design and production process for aluminium castings, IDEAL aims to meet the following demands for:
- reduced emissions of pollutants by cars, with particular regard to CO2,
- improved safety and reliability of vehicles and other devices that include aluminium components,
- reduced the demand for raw aluminium.