Aluminium Technology Centre

The NRC's Aluminium Technology Centre works with its clients and partners in the aluminium transformation industry to improve their manufacturing processes and allow them to make lighter, more cost-effective and more environmentally friendly products. The centre has research facilities dedicated to aluminium transformation processes and characterizing the performance of the manufactured products.

Our capabilities

The Aluminium Technology Centre provides technological solutions for its clients in the aluminium transformation sector by offering direct access to cutting-edge scientific infrastructure and expertise in assembly process development and aluminium forming. The main aluminium transformation technologies available include adhesive assembly, various welding techniques (laser welding, friction stir welding and robotic arc welding), semisolid casting, forming and extrusion, as well as techniques for evaluating mechanical resistance, environmental sustainability, and metallurgical and chemical characterization.

The large-scale laboratory, measuring nearly 1200 m2, contains oversized equipment: two robotic welding cells connected to a 10-kW laser, a friction stir welding machine, a 1000-ton forming press, and a 650-ton injection molding press.

Our facilities include:

Aluminium assembly

Robotic welding cells are used for optimal welding of large, complex pieces using robotic laser, TIG, MIG, hybrid laser/MIG processes and laser remote welding. Using a 10 kW high-power fibre laser, large pieces can be welded quickly with little distortion. There is also a seam-tracking camera and a highly sensitive infrared camera.

With the 5-axis friction stir welding (FSW) machine, large (1 m × 2 m), thick (up to 75 mm) plates can be welded quickly, in one pass, without fusion or filler metal. This process can also be used to weld alloys and metals that cannot be welded by conventional fusion processes.

The NRC has developed expertise in the field of adhesive joining in terms of bonded joint design, surface preparation techniques, mechanical strength testing and environmental sustainability. Innovative technologies are available for aluminium or polymer surfaces: automated atmospheric plasma, automated flame treatment, sol-gel, silanization and electrodeposition. Several technologies are available for characterizing the adhesion controlling properties of the surfaces: using wettability to determine surface energy, infrared spectroscopy, electrochemical measurement and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). We also use techniques such as differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) to study polymerization and degradation of the adhesives and dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA) to determine the bulk properties of adhesive materials.

Programmable environmental enclosures are used to reproduce salt spray or cyclic immersions at controlled temperatures and humidity so as to subject bonded joints to the standardized tests used in the automotive industry. We also have a variety of mechanical testing equipment for static, tension, flexion and torsion testing, as well as fatigue, impact and creep mode testing in compliance with ASTM standards. A thermal shock chamber is used to conduct tests in cyclical temperatures varying between -75 °C and +200 °C.

Predicting the strength and durability of structures assembled with adhesives uses a combination of finite element modeling and fracture testing together with the results of mechanical and environmental tests. We have developed an integrated approach incorporating an analysis of all geometric, mechanical and environmental factors in a database of adhesive materials and surface preparations to predict the in-service durability of bonded joints.

To meet industry demand, equipments and expertise in the fields of electrochemistry, surface characterization and environmental testing are also used to study and control aluminium corrosion and improve the durability of vehicles and other aluminium structures.

Aluminium forming

The Aluminium Technology Centre has focused on the development of aluminium forming processes applicable to the transportation industry, including the manufacture of castings, hot forming, hydroforming and extrusion.

Our researchers have perfected the aluminium semi-solid SEED casting process (patented by Rio Tinto Alcan) to produce high-integrity, cost-effective castings a type of parts that is highly sought for in the automotive sector. This process resulted from our 650-T high-pressure die casting press and the expertise acquired by our researchers in molding and modeling.

Aluminium hydroforming is a technology for the fabrication of reliable and light auto parts. The technique is ideal for producing tubular parts with complex shapes. The metal forming laboratory's 1000-T forming press was designed to produce automotive parts to determine optimal process parameters, in collaboration with part manufacturers. The equipment and research activities enable to study the hydroforming and sheet hot-forming process that help companies producing more complex shapes than the conventional stamping process.

Our modeling expertise and mechanical testing and characterization equipments were used to develop the aluminium extrusion process widely used to produce constant shape structural parts in the transportation industry.

In addition to equipment related to various assembly and forming processes, our centre has numerous pieces of mechanical, metallurgical and chemical characterization equipment, as well as equipment for detecting internal or surface defects or measuring the geometric conformity of parts.

Characterization and analytical equipment
  • high-resolution scanning electron microscope (SEM) equipped with energy-dispersive (EDS), wavelength dispersive (WDS) and electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) X-ray detectors
  • optical microscopes with image analysis systems
  • 3D optical profilometer for high-resolution topographical surface analyses
  • computer-assisted Brinell and Vickers/Knoops hardness testers
  • optical emission spectrometer for the chemical analysis of metals
  • tri-axis coordinate measuring machine (CMM) with mechanical and optical sensors
  • 3D X-ray tomographic inspection system
  • ultrasonic bath with phase array scanning sensor
  • deformation measurement system using image correlation
  • mechanical testing laboratory for tension, torsion, flexion, fatigue, creep and impact at temperatures varying between -75 °C and +515 °C
  • press for measuring sheet formability
  • infrared spectrometer (FTIR)
  • differential scanning calorimeter (DSC)
  • dynamic mechanical analyzer (DMA)

Why work with us

The NRC offers an array of R&D facilities and access to highly specialized scientific, technical and commercialization experts. The NRC develops and transfers technologies through consortia, collaborative research contracts, services agreements and licensing arrangements, tailoring business opportunities to the needs of individual clients, partners and licensees. Contact us to develop a project to meet your R&D challenges.

The NRC's Aluminium Technology Centre scientists combine their efforts in the METALTec industrial R&D group devoted to vehicles weight lighting with aluminium or multi-materials components. It offers to industry members an easy access to aluminum fabrication process expertise by sharing the costs of the project.