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Accepted Manuscript

Title: Flexible Rolling of Aluminium Alloy Sheet Process


Optimization and Control of Materials Properties
Author: Olaf Engler C. Schafer H.-J. Brinkman J. Brecht P.
Beiter K. Nijhof
PII:
DOI:
Reference:

S0924-0136(15)30117-5
http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1016/j.jmatprotec.2015.09.010
PROTEC 14545

To appear in:

Journal of Materials Processing Technology

Received date:
Revised date:
Accepted date:

1-6-2015
2-9-2015
5-9-2015

Please cite this article as: Engler, Olaf, Schafer, C., Brinkman, H.-J., Brecht, J.,
Beiter, P., Nijhof, K., Flexible Rolling of Aluminium Alloy Sheet ndash Process
Optimization and Control of Materials Properties.Journal of Materials Processing
Technology http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jmatprotec.2015.09.010
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Flexible Rolling of Aluminium Alloy Sheet Process Optimization and


Control of Materials Properties
Olaf Engler 1*, C. Schfer 1#, H-J. Brinkman 1, J. Brecht 2, P. Beiter 2, K. Nijhof 2
1

) Hydro Aluminium Rolled Products GmbH, Research and Development Bonn, P.O. Box
2468, D 53014 Bonn, Germany
2
#

) Mubea Tailor Rolled Blanks GmbH, Postfach 472, D 57428 Attendorn, Germany
now with Ceratizit Austria GmbH, Reutte, Austria

Abstract
Continuously increasing demands for consumption-optimized automotive concepts
require steady development of weight-saving potentials. In the area of steel lightweight
design, flexible rolling of tailor-rolled blanks, TRB, is a well-established technology applied
worldwide in all automotive categories. In the future, with the current tendency towards an
increased application of aluminium sheets in the car body and chassis, flexible rolling of
aluminium will become more and more attractive.
In the present paper, the status of the process and materials development of Al-TRB is
presented and the prospective of the future development is outlined. First, the possible
development directions are addressed, followed by an outline of the process chain for the AlTRB fabrication together with several application examples. Considering work-hardening AA
5xxx series and age-hardening AA 6xxx series alloys for automotive applications, lab-scale
experiments have been conducted in order to elucidate the range of properties which can be
realized through flexible rolling while maintaining reproducible constant materials properties
according to specification. Large-scale trials were performed to demonstrate that the
manufacturing of Al-TRBs is feasible, in that these alloys can be processed in industrial scale
to provide homogeneous materials properties over the relevant thickness range for automotive
applications.

Keywords: Flexible rolling; TRB; Al alloys; Automotive; Lightweight

Corresponding author. Tel.: +49 228 552 2792; fax: +49 228 552 2017.
E-mail address: olaf.engler@hydro.com (O. Engler).

1. Introduction
The continuously increasing demands for cost-efficient and environmentally friendly
automotive design lead to a wide range of new body-in-white concepts. These concepts
represent the essence of a wide variety of requirements on the specific parts, such as
passenger safety, design and lightweight claims, recycling issues and acceptable cost with
respect to the vehicles segment. With a view to these partly opposing requirements, in
todays design concepts two major trends can be witnessed, viz. (i) hot forming of structural
components from high-strength steels in order to meet crash requirements, as described by
Naderi et al. (2011); and (ii) an increased use of aluminium, particularly for formed parts with
a minimum of required forming operations, e.g. wide, stiffness-relevant hang-on parts such as
doors, hoods and roof panels, but also crash management and chassis systems, see, e.g.,
Miller et al. (2000) and Hirsch (2011).
In the past decade Kopp and coworkers have developed a novel rolling process to
produce lightweight steel parts through flexible rolling, which allows large-scale production
of sheets with variable thickness in the longitudinal direction (Kopp et al., 2005; Hauger et
al., 2006). Flexible rolled sheet is produced by a closed-loop controlled modification of the
roll gap during the flat rolling process ensuring that the predefined thickness distribution is
achieved within tight tolerances (Fig. 1). The thickness variations are desired to obtain a loadoptimized wall thickness distribution in structural components, i.e. parts for automotive
applications. Nowadays, flexible rolling is a state-of-the-art technology to produce loadoptimized lightweight structure parts. For example Muhr and Bender KG (Mubea) produces
up to 300.000 tons of flexible rolled steel sheet per year at the production sites in Attendorn
and Weiensee (Germany) and in Florence (USA). The resulting so-called tailor-rolled blanks
(TRB) are used as starting material for a large variety of parts in the automotive industry,
including bumpers, pillars, chassis subframes and load-optimized pipes; examples and more
details may be found in the papers by Kleiner et al. (2006), Beiter and Groche (2011) and Hirt
and Dvalos-Julca (2012) and in the review by Merklein et al. (2014).

Fig. 1. Principle of Mubeas flexible rolling process with a closed-loop control of the roll gap.

Up to now, parts from TRB were exclusively made from steel sheets. The total amount of
rolled aluminium used in automotive applications is still low compared to steel and did not
allow for economic serial production of aluminium TRB (short Al-TRB). On the other hand,
the niche market presented by high-end cars and sports cars comprising large amounts of Alsheet did not offer enough market volume for Al-TRB. Today, however, the above-mentioned
trend towards increasing use of aluminium and especially Al-intensive materials mix
encourages a review of the situation. Fig. 2 shows a forecast of the European demand for
rolled aluminium to be used in body-in-white applications, revealing the amount of AA 5xxx
and AA 6xxx series alloys used in 2020 to quadruple from the amount used in 2010. This
increase in usage is foreseen mainly within hang-on parts, such as hoods, deck lids, doors, but
also for structural components, which represent interesting application examples for Al-TRB
due to their specific thickness ranges. It is anticipated that the market for new, flexible rolled
aluminium products will increasingly gain importance, as soon as parts made from aluminium
uni-thickness sheets will win in the competition of materials compared to higher thicknesses.

Fig. 2. Forecast of European demand for rolled aluminium sheet products of the AA 5xxx and
AA 6xxx series (source: IHS automotive, Douglas County, CO, July 2013, and Hydro
internal market study).

The outline of the present paper is as follows. After the above short introduction to the
flexible rolling process a few prototype parts that were produced from Al-TRB will be
presented. Afterwards we describe the Al-alloys with largest prospect for being used as
flexibly rolled sheet in automotive applications, viz. the non-age hardenable AA 5xxx series
alloys (AlMgMn alloys) and the age-hardenable AA 6xxx series alloys (AlMgSi alloys). For
the former the process chain of flexible rolling is quite similar to that of steel-TRBs. Labscale rolling trials have been conducted in order to elucidate the minimum and maximum
thickness steps that can be achieved during flexible rolling where the obtained materials
properties are equivalent to those of uni-thickness material. As regards the heat-treatable AA
6xxx series alloys the processing chain had to be expanded by a solutionizing step after
flexible rolling in order to exploit the full age-hardening potential of the alloys. Again, labscale experiments have been performed to reveal the range of properties which can be realized
through flexible rolling while maintaining reproducible constant materials properties. Finally,
several large-scale trials were conducted on Mubeas and Hydros industrial lines to provide a
proof of feasibility for flexible rolling of important AA 5xxx and AA 6xxx-series sheet alloys
for automotive applications.

2. Scope and opportunities for Al-TRB


2.1.

Examples for automotive parts made from Al-TRB


Up to date, steel TRB were mainly used for load-carrying structural parts. In these

applications the technological benefit in terms of load-optimized design, integration of


function, and integration of parts by using TRB technology could be maximized. As a result
of the flexible rolling process the number of thickness changes within one part does not affect
part costs. On the contrary, as long as it is possible to save material with an additional zone of
reduced thickness raw material costs can be reduced. A complex sheet thickness design can
thus lead to a more economical part by the reduction of the raw material use, both for steel
and for aluminium TRB.
According to Mubeas experience ideal Al-TRB parts show weight savings of at least 2030% compared to conventional parts with constant thickness together with a material
utilization of more than 60%. Possible applications include shear walls, chassis components,
cross car beams, door components, seat components and components of the bodywork. Fig. 3
shows a selection of prototype parts that were successfully produced from flexibly rolled nonage hardenable Al-alloys.

Fig. 3. Prototype applications for Al-TRB within the body-in-white.

2.2.

Aluminium-alloys suitable for TRB in automotive applications


For the production of bodywork, hang-on parts, chassis and interior components from Al

alloys, mainly two aluminium alloy systems are of interest, viz. the non-age hardenable AA
5xxx series alloys (AlMgMn alloys) and the age-hardenable AA 6xxx series alloys (AlMgSi
alloys). It is noted that sheet made of the heat-treatable AA 7xxx series alloys (AlZnMg) may
show higher strength, especially alloys that additionally contain Cu. According to Reyes et al.
(2006) extrusions made of alloys AA 7108 and AA 7003 may be used for bumpers,
crashboxes and longitudinals. AA 7xxx series sheet alloys are not established in the
automotive sector, in contrast, which is due to unresolved issues in the areas of formability,
corrosion resistance and joining technologies. As a consequence, the present paper deals with
the flexible rolling of AA 5xxx and AA 6xxx series alloys only.
The basic strengthening mechanisms in the AlMgMn-alloys of the AA 5xxx-series are
solute strengthening due to Mg-contents of up to 6 wt.% as well as dislocation strengthening
due to work-hardening. By controlling the alloy composition, the rolling reduction and the
annealing conditions the properties within this alloy group can be adjusted over a wide range
with respect to formability and strength. The AA 5xxx-alloys are known for their worldwide
availability as no special production equipment e.g. continuous annealing line is required.
According to Miller et al. (2000) and Ostermann (2007), the favourable combination of very
good corrosion resistance, good formability and reasonable strength allows using AA 5xxx
alloys for structural applications, within the chassis and for inner parts of the body-in-white.
Unfortunately, however, Mg-containing alloys are known to suffer from the formation of
stretcher strains on the sheet surface which disqualifies these alloys from visible outer parts of
the car body. As discussed in more detail by Nogueira de Codes et al. (2011), the occurrence
of stretcher strains is attributed to dynamic strain aging caused by the interaction of solute Mg
with moving dislocations.
The heat-treatable AlMgSi-alloys of the AA 6xxx series are characterized by a good
corrosion resistance and a good formability in the solutionized T4 condition, as well as an
appreciable increase in strength upon subsequent artificial ageing. This is discussed in more
detail e.g. by Hirsch (1997) who gives a general introduction into the use of Al-alloys for
automotive applications and by Hirth et al. (2001) focusing specifically on ageing and
resulting properties of alloy AA 6016. AA 6xxx sheets for autobody applications are usually
solution heat treated in a continuous annealing line by the aluminium-provider before they are
delivered to the automotive customer. In a continuous annealing line the strip is unwound

from the coil and passed single-stranded through the furnace, where the material is rapidly
heated to temperatures between 500 and 560 C to dissolve the hardening phases. Then the
strip is quenched with spray water or forced air to retain the hardening alloy elements, Mg
and Si, in solid solution. The solutionized strip is then delivered to the automotive customer,
where parts are formed and assembled to the final automotive bodywork. The AA 6xxx series
alloys gain their final strength only during the paint bake cycle after lacquering. After
electrophoretic deposition (EPD) the body framework is cured for 20 to 30 min at
temperatures ranging from 170 to 190C. In this temperature/time cycle the AA 6xxx series
alloys experience significant age hardening by precipitation of fine metastable particles,
details of which can be found in the papers by Gupta et al. (2001) and Wang et al. (2003).
This increase in service strength combined with good surface appearance makes AA 6xxx
series alloys the preferable solution for outer skin applications. Due to their age-hardening
behaviour and their weldability AA 6xxx series sheet materials are also of interest for
structural or chassis applications; Berneder et al. (2014) show an example of the latter.
Fig. 4 shows the opposing evolution of mechanical properties within AA 5xxx and AA
6xxx series alloys depending on deformation and heat treatment conditions for two examples,
viz. the non-age hardening alloy AA 5182 and the age-hardenable variant AA 6016 (chemical
composition see Table 1). Starting from the soft-annealed O-temper AA 5182 will undergo
significant work hardening during forming operations (simulated by a 5% stretching operation
in Fig. 4). During the subsequent thermal load in the paint-bake cycle this additional strength
is reverted due to recovery reactions, however. Accordingly, parts made of AA 5xxx series
alloys are usually designed with the properties of the soft condition (O-temper). The agehardenable alloy AA 6016 shows a different behaviour, in contrast. Both the as-delivered
material in the solution-heat treated condition (temper T4) and the formed parts will reveal
slightly lower strength than alloy AA 5182. During the paint-bake cycle the alloy experiences
significant age hardening, however, leading to the typical properties of the artificially aged T6
or T8 tempers.

Fig. 4. Differences in mechanical properties for work-hardening AA 5182 and age-hardenable


AA 6016 in dependence on pre-deformation and subsequent heat treatment simulating the
industrial paint-bake cycle.

2.3.

Process route for Al-TRB


Based on Mubeas experience in flexible rolling of steel sheet a process chain for the

production of Al-TRB had to be developed. The production process of steel TRB includes the
flexible rolling itself, followed by a suitable heat treatment, an optional slitting operation and
the final levelling and cutting of the blanks (Fig. 5). For Al-TRB this process chain had to be
modified and adapted to the requirements of the Al-grade at hand. Kim and Lim (2010)
studied the formability of flexible rolled sheets of the Al-alloy AA 5023 (AlMg5.5Cu) and
reported that microstructure and properties of the sheets varied with cold rolling reduction and
final annealing temperature. In dependence on the alloy grade and processing conditions there
is a certain minimum in rolling reduction which is required to give a fully recrystallized fine
grained microstructure with mechanical properties according to customers specifications. On
the other hand, too high rolling reductions may be accompanied by overly large work
hardening and, in turn, occurrence of edge cracking and even rupture of the rolled strip. Thus,
the selection of thickness and the materials state of the starting material needs to be adjusted
to the desired thickness distribution in the final TRB part.

Fig. 5. Process chain for the production of steel TRB by flexible rolling at Mubea.

Non-age hardening AA 5xxx series alloys are commonly used in the soft-annealed state
(O temper), which may be achieved by a standard batch annealing cycle. In that case the
process chain for steel-TRB can be used with an adaption in soft annealing temperature. The
processing of heat-treatable AA 6xxx series alloys comprises some distinct differences, which
are mainly related to the need to solutionize the material in order to exploit the full agehardening potential. Within the process design for TRB made of AA 6xxx series alloys the
flexible rolling should take place before the solutionizing treatment. In principle this can be
achieved by solution annealing of the final TRB blanks. However, such a piece-wise solution
annealing is tedious and expensive, and may introduce overly large scatter in materials
properties. Furthermore, the distortions resulting from quenching will necessitate an
additional piece-wise levelling operation to produce flat blanks. While this procedure may be
suitable for the production of prototype parts, series production of age-hardenable Al-strip
commonly comprises a solution heat treatment in a continuous annealing line, as described in
the previous section. This implies that the rolled strip has to be coiled after flexible rolling at
Mubea and shipped to Hydros Automotive Center for the solutionizing treatment. It should
be emphasized that the control of temperature and band velocity in the continuous annealing
line must be adapted to the production of flexibly rolled strip. The solution heat treatment of
mono-thickness strip is usually optimized for productivity, in that temperature and band
velocity are maximized within the limitations that the specified materials properties are
reliably achieved. For flexibly rolled strip with varying thickness band velocity and
temperature must be controlled such that the specified materials properties are met in the
thickest regions under exclusion of possible overheating and partial melting in the thinner
regions. In general, this will require a slight reduction in temperature and band velocity at the
expenses of productivity.
Furthermore, for many applications of Al sheet in automotive construction a specific pretreatment of the surface of the final Al strip is required. This may involve cleaning, etching,

surface passivation with a Ti/Zr-layer and/or application of a hot melt or pre-lube. Just as
discussed earlier for the solution annealing, surface treatment can be applied piece by piece to
the final blanks. Again, however, continuous surface processing lines are common in industry
and provide surface treatment of constant high quality in a much more economical manner.
Fig. 6 displays a sketch of Hydros continuous surface treatment line AL1, where various
processing steps can successively be performed via spray applications. It is noted that
contactless application techniques, including spray application, are particularly well suited for
flexibly rolled strip with thickness steps along the strip length.

Fig. 6. Schematic sketch of the surface treatment line AL1 at Hydro Aluminium.

3. Materials properties and application examples of Al-TRB


3.1.

Pre-studies on materials properties


In the automotive industry, it is common practice to compile specific documentation for

materials, processes and parts. As far as materials are concerned, these documents define
delivery conditions, including microstructure and mechanical properties that have to be met.
In section 2.2., the two main alloy classes for automotive applications, the non-age hardenable
AA 5xxx series alloys and the age-hardenable AA 6xxx series alloys, have been introduced.
In what follows we will present materials data for three typical members of these alloy
classes, viz. alloys AA 5454-O, AA 5182-O and AA 6016-T4 (Table 1). Especially, we will
focus on the dependency of mechanical properties and grain size on the rolling degree prior to
the final annealing treatment soft annealing (O) for the AA 5xxx alloys and solutionizing
(T4) for the AA 6xxx alloy. For that purpose, standard lab rolling and annealing experiments
were conducted in order to assess the homogeneity of materials properties as a function of the
various thicknesses that may be achieved in flexible rolling.
Alloy AA 5454 is a non-heat treatable, medium-to-high strength alloy with very good
corrosion resistance which is used in both chassis and structural applications. Court et al.

(2001) report that the properties of soft-annealed AA 5xxx series alloys may vary appreciably
as a function of their final grain size which, in turn, is controlled by a possible interannealing
and the final cold rolling pass before soft annealing. Accordingly, specimens taken from a hot
strip of alloy AA 5454 with a thickness of 6.0 mm were cold rolled on a lab rolling mill to
different thicknesses ranging from 2.4 to 4.4 mm, corresponding to rolling degrees between
27% and 60%. Finally the differently cold rolled samples were soft annealed in a simulated
batch anneal with a maximum temperature of 350C for 1 h. Fig. 7 summarizes the
mechanical properties of the differently rolled sheets as a function of their final thickness. The
values for yield strength Rp0,2, ultimate tensile strength Rm, uniform elongation Ag and
elongation at fracture A80mm were obtained in standard uniaxial tensile tests conducted
perpendicular to the former rolling direction according to the international standard ISO 68921. In all cases two or three duplicate tests were conducted to check reproducibility of the
results. Three examples of the resulting microstructures are presented in Fig. 8. Evidently, the
4.4 mm thick sample was not fully recrystallized, as apparent from the elongated grain
structure (Fig. 8(a)) and the high mechanical strength combined with reduced elongation
values (Fig. 7). According to Engler et al. (2013) this is caused by the fairly high Mn-content
of alloy AA 5454, which is known to inhibit recrystallization at too low rolling degrees.
However, for all other samples with rolling degrees exceeding 30% rather uniform
mechanical properties were achieved, reaching a tensile strength of almost 250 MPa for all
thicknesses. Despite some slightly larger scatter elongation at fracture is also found to be
independent of thickness, returning values of about 20%. These findings are confirmed by
grain size investigations. The grain structure within the different thicknesses below 4.0 mm
show only very small differences in grain size (Fig. 8) that obviously are of no relevance for
the mechanical properties. In conclusion, Al-TRB made of alloy AA 5454 will show
homogenous and reproducible mechanical properties, provided the final rolling pass exceeds
30% in all thickness areas. Furthermore, the mechanical properties observed fulfil the
requirements given by automotive industry, which qualifies this alloy for applications of AlTRB in AA 5xxx grades.

Fig. 7. Mechanical properties of the alloy AA 5454 in condition O as a function of the rolling
degree prior to final soft annealing, tested perpendicular to the rolling direction.

Fig. 8. Grain structure of the alloy AA 5454 in condition O as a function of the rolling degree
prior to final soft annealing (a) 27% (4.4 mm), (b) 38% (3.7 mm), (c) 50% (3.0 mm),
longitudinal section, anodically oxidized, rolling direction is horizontal.

A similar set of experiments was performed for alloy AA 5182, which contains more Mg
but less Mn than alloy AA 5454 (Table 1). Accordingly, this alloy has better ductility and, as
such, finds widespread use in a variety of automotive applications requiring improved
formability. In analogy to Fig. 7, Fig. 9(a) shows the mechanical properties as a function of
the cold rolling pass prior to final soft annealing. It appears that alloy AA 5182 recrystallizes
easier than AA 5454; already after a rolling degree of 12% a fully recrystallized grain
structure with typical properties of soft AA 5182 can be achieved. This eased recrystallization
is attributed to the lower Mn level in alloy AA 5182, which exerts lower back-driving forces
upon soft-annealing. However, rolling degrees below 27% lead to a very coarse grain
structure (see inset in Fig. 9(b)), which adversely affects mechanical strength and, especially,
elongation values (Fig. 9(a)). According to Burger et al. (1995) and Hirsch (1997), the
dependency of mechanical data on grain size is influenced by the Mg content, which is larger
in AA 5182 than in AA 5454. Thus, similarly as described for alloy AA 5454, in flexible
rolling a minimum rolling degree of about 30% is desirable to obtain uniform materials
properties in alloy AA 5182, albeit for different metallurgical reasons.

(a)

(b)

Fig. 9. (a) Mechanical properties and (b) grain size of alloy AA 5182 alloy in condition O as a

function of the rolling degree prior to final soft annealing.

Similar investigations were conducted for age-hardening AA 6xxx series alloys, more
specifically for the alloy AA 6016, a well-established grade for automotive sheet applications.
The starting material, 5.0 mm hot strip, was cold rolled to various final thicknesses ranging
from 0.8 mm to 3.5 mm, corresponding to rolling reductions from 30% to 84%. This
approximately covers the thickness range that can be handled in typical continuous annealing
lines for automotive strip. Then, the cold rolled sheets were subjected to a lab-solutionizing
procedure. Sheet specimens of the different thicknesses were annealed for 2 min at 520C in a
fluidized sand bath followed by water quenching in order to mimic the industrial production
in a continuous annealing line. Tensile testing of the material in temper T4 was performed
after 1 week of room temperature storage to allow for some natural ageing and hence to get
more reproducible results. Furthermore, part of the solutionized sheets was annealed for 30
min at 205C which is a standard practice to achieve the age-hardened T6 state for automotive
AA 6xxx series sheet alloys. Figs. 10 (a) and (b) show the measured values for strength and
elongation for the T4 and T6 conditions, respectively.

(a) T4

(b) T6

Fig. 10. Mechanical properties of alloy AA 6016 alloy as a function of the rolling degree prior

to final solution heat treatment (a) in condition T4 and (b) in condition T6 (after artificial
aging for 30 min at 205C).

In temper T4, i.e. the condition upon delivery, yield strength and tensile strength for alloy
AA 6016 are found to be very homogenous and independent of the thickness of the sample.

For the elongation values slightly larger scatter is obtained, but values for the uniform
elongation exceeding 22% and elongation at fracture exceeding 27% indicate good
formability in the as-delivered state. Most notably, typical customer specifications of e.g. Ag =
19% and A80mm = 23% in condition T4 are clearly surpassed in the entire thickness range (Fig.
10(a)). Fig. 11 shows several examples illustrating the variation in the grain structure as a
function of the investigated sample thickness. For the smallest rolling degree, 30%, an
average grain size of 30 m was obtained, which slightly decreases with increasing rolling
reduction down to 25 m in the 84% rolled sheet. This fairly small range, 25 30 m, is
typical of alloy AA 6016, and negative surface effects, such as orange peel, can be ruled out
at such grain sizes. Data of yield strength and ultimate tensile strength in the T6 condition,
representing the in-service materials state, are also quite similar, revealing solely a negligible
increase with decreasing sample thickness. Most importantly, all sample thicknesses meet
typical customer specifications, e.g. Rp0.2 > 200 MPa and Rm > 260 MPa in condition T6 (Fig.
10(b)). As for the elongation, there is a small but noticeable dependence of uniform
elongation, Ag and, especially, elongation at fracture, A80mm, on sample thickness. Hence, it is
recommended that very large rolling reductions in excess of 75% should be avoided in
flexible rolling, if possible.

Fig. 11. Grain structure of alloy AA 6016 alloy in condition T4 as a function of the rolling
degree prior to final solution heat treatment, (a) 30% (3.5 mm), (b) 61% (2.0 mm), (c)
84% (0.8 mm), (longitudinal section, anodically oxidized, rolling direction horizontal).
Fig. 12 (a) and (b) represent a photomontage of several micrographs in a transition zone
with thicknesses between 3.5 and 1.7 mm, i.e. reductions varying from 30% to 66%, before
and after solution annealing, respectively. As in the above more detailed analysis, the grain
size obtained after the solutionizing treatment shows only minor variation across the
investigated thickness range. Furthermore, for AA 6xxx series alloys, grain size (i.e. HallPetch effect) generally plays a minor role compared to precipitation strengthening. Thus, the
present investigations prove that the microstructure after flexible rolling to different thickness
reductions and subsequent solution heat treatment is homogeneous for a wide range of rolling
reductions. This implies that AA 6xxx series alloys may be well suited for applications with
Al-TRB, provided the material is properly solution heat treated, as addressed in Sec. 2.3.
(a)

(b)

Fig. 12. Grain structure in alloy AA 6016 in the transition zone (a) prior to and (b) after final

solution heat treatment (condition T4), (longitudinal section, anodically oxidized, rolling
direction horizontal).

3.2.

Application examples
In order to prove the applicability of the above pre-studies to producing flexibly rolled

strip with thickness variations on industrial processing lines a 2 mm thick, 750 mm wide
coiled strip of the alloy AA 6016 was shipped from Hydro to Mubea for flexible rolling. The
material was in the solutionized, i.e. fully recrystallized state. At Mubea, the band was

flexibly rolled to a strip with three different thickness sectors, viz. 1.0 mm, 1.5 mm as well as
1.8 mm. This corresponds to overall reductions of 50%, 25% and 10%, respectively. Then, the
flexibly rolled strip was cleaned and shipped back to Hydro Automotive Center, where it was
solution annealed and subsequently pre-treated on Hydros commercial production lines. The
solution heat treatment consisted of an annealing at 530C at a velocity of 12 m/min with
subsequent forced-air quenching in Hydros continuous annealing line AL2. Pre-treatment at
the conversion line AL1 consisted of the application of a Ti/Zr conversion layer (4 mg/m)
and the subsequent application of a hot melt (0.7 g/m). To the authors best knowledge, this
is the first full-scale production trial of flexibly rolled sheet from age-hardenable AA 6xxx
series alloys on industrial equipment.
The final material in temper T4 was tested for mechanical properties and for grain size.
Fig. 13 shows the thickness variations along the band length together with typical
micrographs obtained at these gauges. Obviously, the rolling degree of 10% of the thickest
regions (1.8 mm) was sufficient to achieve complete recrystallization, but too low to produce
a fine grained microstructure. The two thinner gauges, 1.5 mm and 1.0 mm, depict much finer
grain structures, which approximately fall within the range obtained in the pre-study (see
above). Accordingly, the mechanical properties are fairly constant for the thinner gauges, 1.5
mm and 1.0 mm, but the thickest regions reveal slightly lower strength and elongation (Fig.
14(a)). The T6-properties, presented in Fig. 14(b), are likewise very similar to the results
obtained for the same thickness range in the pre-study (Fig. 10(b)). In conclusion, Al-TRB of
age-hardenable alloys like AA 6016 can be produced and, especially, solution heat treated on
industrial processing lines, giving uniform materials properties as long as the minimum
rolling degree exceeds a minimum of about 20% cold rolling in order to ensure reasonably
fine grained microstructures. The flexibly rolled strip was further tested for possible
variations in surface roughness as well as in the thickness of the Ti/Zr conversion layer as a
function of sheet thickness. As expected, for both no systematic variations beyond the
standard scatter were found, which proves the feasibility of TRB on a commercial conversion
line.

Fig. 13. Trial with Al-TRB of alloy AA 6016 with three different thicknesses. (a) thickness
distribution with four steps along the length of a blank, (b) grain structure in the range
with 1.7 mm thickness, (c) grain structure in the range with 1.4 mm thickness, (d) grain
structure in the range with 0.9 mm thickness, all in temper T4 (longitudinal section,
anodically oxidized, rolling direction horizontal).

(a) T4

(b) T6

Fig. 14. Mechanical properties for a typical part of an AA 6016 alloy (a) in condition T4 (after

solution heat treatment, before forming) and (b) in condition T6 (after artificial aging, 30
min at 205C).

In a second trial of flexible rolling, sample material was produced for the tunnel
reinforcement of the Mercedes-Benz SL. According to Ernstberger et al. (2013) this part is

currently produced from tailor-welded blanks, TWB, with three different thicknesses along
the parts length. Because of crash requirements the alloy was changed to the AlMgSi alloy
AA 6005C with almost balanced Mg and Si contents (Table 1) which is known to have better
crash properties than alloy AA 6016. Hot strip with 3.8 mm thickness was flexibly rolled with
three sectors of different thickness, viz. 1.25 mm, 2.0 mm and 1.5 mm, along a stipulated
sheet length of 1380 mm (Fig. 15). The flexibly rolled strip was solution heat treated at 550C
in a continuous annealing line as described beforehand; surface treatment of the coil was not
required. The materials properties in tempers T4 and T6 as well as grain size data in the three
different sectors are listed in Table 2, revealing uniform properties with minimum
dependence on material thickness. This is in accord with the above conclusions that rolling
degrees in the range of 20% to 75% prior to solutionizing generally yield rather uniform
materials properties and are therefore suited for TRB of alloys of the AA 6xxx series.

From the flexibly rolled strip blanks 750 mm wide and 1380 mm long were cut and made
available to Daimler for a press trial. There, several parts were successfully formed on the
series press for the production of the above-mentioned Mercedes-Benz SL tunnel
reinforcement from TWB. Visual comparison of the parts made from TWB and TRB showed
no significant differences, which underlines the potential of TRB in replacing TWB with a
load-optimized wall thickness distribution in structural components for automotive
applications.

Fig. 15. Thickness distribution with three sections along the length of a TRB of alloy AA
6005C with resulting formed trial part (tunnel reinforcement of Mercedes-Benz SL).
4. Summary and Outlook
Due to the increase in demand for light bodywork, chassis and interior components,
Mubea and Hydro jointly pursue the expansion of the tailor-rolled blank (TRB) portfolio for
solutions with aluminium alloys. Considering work-hardening AA 5xxx series alloys, lab
studies have revealed the thickness regime which can be realized in Al-TRB with similar
grain sizes and, in turn, homogeneous materials properties. Furthermore, the complete process
chain has been assessed and validated by the production of several prototype parts.
For age-hardenable AA 6xxx series alloys the process chain is more complicated since
these alloys must be solution heat treated after flexible rolling so as to exploit the full agehardening potential. Thus, the flexibly rolled strip has to be coiled and shipped to a
continuous annealing line where the strip is solution annealed at high temperatures and
subsequently quenched. Afterwards, the strip may receive an additional surface treatment,
involving cleaning and etching, surface passivation with a Ti/Zr-layer and/or application of a
hot melt or pre-lube.
In the framework of the present study two trials were conducted with flexible rolling of
Al-TRB of AA 6xxx series alloys. These trials have validated the results from lab-scale
studies about the potential thickness regime of AA 6xxx-TRB with uniform materials
properties. Furthermore, the flexibly rolled AA 6xxx-strip was successfully solutionized and
subsequently surface-treated on dedicated processing lines in Hydros Automotive Center,
which documents the feasibility of TRB on industrial lines. Finally, several TRBs of alloy AA
6005C-T4 with three different thickness sections were successfully formed on a series press
designed for the production of a tunnel reinforcement of the Mercedes-Benz SL which is
currently produced from tailor-welded blanks, TWB.
Thus, the present study has substantiated that flexible cold rolling and subsequent heat
treatment of Al sheet alloys is feasible on existing serial lines. As for steel-TRB, weight
savings of up to 30% have been achieved with the prototype parts made of Al-TRB compared
to conventional parts, i.e. parts with uniform thickness. This is a decisive factor for the
economic efficiency of Al-TRB. In conclusion, it is expected that tailor-rolled blanks from
aluminium alloys will make a further contribution to the economical, sheet-intensive
aluminium lightweight design for automotive applications.

Acknowledgements
The authors are grateful to Messrs. H. Beckschwarte, A. Faust and W. Schretzlmeier of
Daimler AG, Germany, for the possibility to use their series press for a forming trial.
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Figure Captions
Fig. 1. Principle of Mubeas flexible rolling process with a closed-loop control of the roll gap.
Fig. 2. Forecast of European demand for rolled aluminium sheet products of the AA 5xxx and
AA 6xxx series (source: IHS automotive, Douglas County, CO, July 2013, and Hydro
internal market study).
Fig. 3. Prototype applications for Al-TRB within the body-in-white.
Fig. 4. Differences in mechanical properties for work-hardening AA 5182 and age-hardenable
AA 6016 in dependence on pre-deformation and subsequent heat treatment simulating the
industrial paint-bake cycle.
Fig. 5. Process chain for the production of steel TRB by flexible rolling at Mubea.
Fig. 6. Schematic sketch of the surface treatment line AL1 at Hydro Aluminium.
Fig. 7. Mechanical properties of the alloy AA 5454 in condition O as a function of the rolling
degree prior to final soft annealing, tested perpendicular to the rolling direction.
Fig. 8. Grain structure of the alloy AA 5454 in condition O as a function of the rolling degree
prior to final soft annealing (a) 27% (4.4 mm), (b) 38% (3.7 mm), (c) 50% (3.0 mm),
longitudinal section, anodically oxidized, rolling direction is horizontal.
Fig. 9. (a) Mechanical properties and (b) grain size of alloy AA 5182 alloy in condition O as a
function of the rolling degree prior to final soft annealing.
Fig. 10. Mechanical properties of alloy AA 6016 alloy as a function of the rolling degree prior
to final solution heat treatment (a) in condition T4 and (b) in condition T6 (after artificial
aging for 30 min at 205C).

Fig. 11. Grain structure of alloy AA 6016 alloy in condition T4 as a function of the rolling
degree prior to final solution heat treatment, (a) 30% (3.5 mm), (b) 61% (2.0 mm), (c)
84% (0.8 mm), (longitudinal section, anodically oxidized, rolling direction horizontal).
Fig. 12. Grain structure in alloy AA 6016 in the transition zone (a) prior to and (b) after final
solution heat treatment (condition T4), (longitudinal section, anodically oxidized, rolling
direction horizontal).
Fig. 13. Trial with Al-TRB of alloy AA 6016 with three different thicknesses. (a) thickness
distribution with four steps along the length of a blank, (b) grain structure in the range
with 1.7 mm thickness, (c) grain structure in the range with 1.4 mm thickness, (d) grain
structure in the range with 0.9 mm thickness, all in temper T4 (longitudinal section,
anodically oxidized, rolling direction horizontal).
Fig. 14. Mechanical properties for a typical part of an AA 6016 alloy (a) in condition T4
(after solution heat treatment, before forming) and (b) in condition T6 (after artificial
aging, 30 min at 205C).
Fig. 15. Thickness distribution with three sections along the length of a TRB of alloy AA
6005C with resulting formed trial part (tunnel reinforcement of Mercedes-Benz SL).

Table 1. Composition range of Al alloys studied according to AA specification (in wt. %, rest
Al).
Alloy

Si

5182

0.20

5454
6016

Fe

Cu

Mn

Mg

Cr

0.35 0.15 0.200.50

4.05.0

0.10

0.25

0.40 0.10

0.501.0

2.43.0

1.01.5

0.50 0.20

0.20

0.250.6

0.10

6005C 0.400.9 0.35 0.35

0.50

0.400.8

0.30

Zn

Ti

others, each others, total

0.25 0.10

0.05

0.15

0.050.20 0.25 0.20

0.05

0.15

0.20 0.15

0.05

0.15

0.25 0.10

0.05

0.15

Table 2. Materials properties and grain size in tempers T4 and T6 for TRB of alloy AA
6005C in the three different thickness sectors.
thickness
[mm]
1.25
1.5
2.0
1.25
1.5
2.0

rolling
degree

state

Rp0,2

Rm

Ag

A80mm

grain size

[%]
67
61
47
67
61
47

T4
T4
T4
T6
T6
T6

[MPa]
108
109
111
227
226
227

[MPa]
220
218
216
269
268
269

[%]
22.9
22.8
22.0
10.5
10.3
10.2

[%]
28.1
27.6
27.5
15.1
14.5
15.1

[m]
27
29
30