In this line of work, theory and practice go hand in hand. These types of tests can also reveal a lot about the needs of the customer.
As a supplier, there are two basic ways to deal with customers, says Erik Hilfrich from the Application Technology division at ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe: “The first way is to simply unload my product at the customer and leave it at that. The second way is to take an interest in how the customer uses our steel in the vehicle, to examine the customer’s precise needs, and to provide that customer with the exact materials needed to get the job done.”
“We,” he continues, “prefer the latter approach.” This philosophy really takes on new meaning in the Application Concepts team, where Rolf Röttger is hard at work carrying out crash simulations and other validation tests. In a time in which government authorities, insurance companies, and consumers hold vehicles to higher safety standards than ever before, ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe, as a materials manufacturer, is taking a close look at safety early on in the production process. Röttger mentions the side impact test, which became a major factor some years back.
As a result of this test, vehicle doors are now equipped with side impact beams made from high-strength steel, allowing vehicles to comply with the stricter safety regulations. This came as no great surprise to the Application Concepts team. The fact of the matter is that Röttger and his colleagues know the sector inside and out and specially tailor their work in Duisburg and at Westfalenhütte in Dortmund to the needs of the automotive industry. In order to anticipate these requirements, the team keeps a close eye on the current crash test standards and stays abreast of any changes.
New requirements, new tests
One important new standard is the American Small Overlap Rigid Barrier (SORB) crash test, which simulates the conditions of a collision with a fixed wall, a scenario which tends to receive less attention in other types of crash tests. Existing body structures are not able to absorb enough energy at the points of collision.
One option would be to integrate new components into the vehicle structure, thereby making use of existing load paths. Alternatively, existing structural components can be reinforced using ultra-high strength steel. ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe acted quickly, expanding its range of products so that it could supply its customers with the necessary steel products right away.
There is a lot of development work involved in turning a knowledge edge into innovations and optimized products, as with the SORB test, and a lot of this work takes place using computer simulations. To help him perform these simulations,
Röttger relies on a cutting-edge server which can perform highly complex calculations in around six hours.
To illustrate the accuracy of these results, Röttger gives an example: “For one of our new materials, we first calculated the results using a computer simulation and then performed an actual crash test together with the RWTH Aachen using the very same data. The results were exactly as we predicted.”
Progress through cooperation
Carrying out tests like this together with customers and independent research institutes is part and parcel of crash simulations. This type of cooperation – learning together and from one another – is all part of a larger philosophy.
“It is very important for us to foster communication with customers on the one side and researchers on the other side,” says Hilfrich. It is all part of the company’s goal to stay a step ahead in terms of product development and anticipate the needs of the market early on – and maybe even to know what customers will need next before they themselves do.