ULSAB Consortium: A Remarkable Collaboration

DETROIT, MI, March 4, 1998 - A consortium of 35 sheet steel producers from 18 countries around the world has set new standards for successful collaboration as well as automotive body design. Four years ago, fierce competitors joined together in a common purpose. Today they present the culmination of their teamwork: a lightweight steel auto body structure that outperforms benchmarked averages and can also cost less to build.

The UltraLight Steel Auto Body (ULSAB) Consortium was formed to answer the challenge of car makers around the world: reduce the weight of steel auto body structures while maintaining their performance and affordability. This seemingly simple request required a concerted effort by the most prominent steel manufacturers in the world if it were to be answered satisfactorily. Sheet steel producers from around the world joined the consortium to design and validate an UltraLight Steel Auto Body.

The ULSAB Consortium contracted Porsche Engineering Services, Inc. (PES) to provide engineering and manufacturing management for the ULSAB project and worked with them to define the project goals. They took a two-phase approach: The concept phase encompassed a clean-sheet design of a lightweight steel auto structure; the validation phase verified the design through the manufacture of ULSAB structures.

The Consortium was an ingenious way to leverage funds and resources. The ULSAB project, which cost $22 million, spanned almost four years. Consortium members contributed their time and expertise to ensure the success of this important project. But first they had to overcome the barriers intrinsic to their organization.

Challenges

Obvious obstacles included language and cultural differences, as well as sheer geographical distance. The members agreed from the outset to conduct all Consortium meetings in English. Although this agreement standardized meeting communications, it restricted vigorous participation of many members whose first language was not English. Culture, in addition to language, posed a challenge to Consortium members. Members learned to recognize and respect professional customs different from their own while participating in meetings.

Geographical boundaries were overcome through creativity and a healthy desire for travel. Members agreed to meet face-to-face at a host company location at least once a quarter. Between meetings, members relied heavily on state-of-the art communications technologies. Initially, facsimile machines hummed around the world at all hours of the day and night, but soon other technologies took their place. E-mail became the communications medium of choice. And the Consortium created its own website which included a gateway for members to go to a private area and collect the latest information on the status of their project, review documents and provide feedback.

Concept

After benchmarking a series of mid-size sedans from manufacturers around the world, PES developed mass and performance targets for the ULSAB structure. Throughout the design process, PES consulted with materials, manufacturing and assembly experts to ensure that the design could be built using near reach technologies and available materials.

In September 1995, the consortium announced the results of the concept phase. At the time, the design of ULSAB indicated weight savings of up to 35 percent and substantially improved performance when compared to a range of benchmark vehicles in the same class. An independent cost study indicated ULSAB should also cost less to produce than typical vehicle structures of that time.

Automakers and the media from around the world responded with great enthusiasm to the results of this unprecedented steel industry cooperative initiative. The story was covered in virtually every member country, much to the satisfaction of the Consortium.

Validation

During the validation phase in late fall 1995, design and engineering of the ULSAB body structure were refined and finalized. Strategies were developed to communicate the progress during and at the conclusion of the project.

Exterior styling was developed to create a recognizable look for the auto structure. Consortium members provided material for the parts, and component fabricators were selected to build the components. Assembly and testing of the body structures took place at Porsche AG in Germany. Also, a Porsche-led team of analysts conducted an in-depth economic analysis of the cost of ULSAB.

Results

Results of the validation of ULSAB were announced to the world in March 1998: The ULSAB structure weighs merely 203 kg, up to 36 percent less than the range of benchmarked vehicles in the concept phase. Physical tests of the structure reveal similar remarkable results: torsion and bending tests showed improvements over benchmark of 80 percent and 52 percent, respectively, and first body structure mode indicates a 58 percent improvement.

Analyses also show ULSAB satisfies mandated crash requirements, even at speeds exceeding the requirements. In addition to reduced weight and superior performance, ULSAB costs no more to build than typical auto body structures in its class and can even yield potential cost savings, according to economic analysis.

The ULSAB project employs many techniques and processes that were unique and deemed patentable by international attorneys. The Consortium chose to make all patentable features along with other project results freely available to its customers and to the public. All intellectual property generated by ULSAB has been placed in the public domain.

ULSAB is a vivid example of the power of international, inter-industry cooperation. The cooperative efforts of design engineers, steel manufacturers, component fabricators, assembly experts and economists who worked on the project illustrate that automakers can retain the benefits of steel while realizing substantial mass reductions and increasing the performance of auto structures.

The Automotive Applications Committee (AAC) is a subcommittee of the Market Development Committee of AISI and focuses on advancing the use of steel in the highly competitive automotive market. With offices and staff located in Detroit, cooperation between the automobile and steel industries has been significant to its success. This industry cooperation resulted in the formation of the Auto/Steel Partnership, a consortium of DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors and the member companies of the AAC.

American Iron and Steel Institute/
Automotive Applications Committee:
AK Steel Corporation
Acme Steel Company
Bethlehem Steel Corporation
Dofasco Inc.
Ispat Inland Inc.
National Steel Corporation
Rouge Steel Company
Stelco Inc.
United States Steel Corporation
WCI Steel, Inc.
Weirton Steel Corporation