Customer story

With Docol® steel, Shape Corp. has improved body structure components for cars

The basic shape of the car hasn’t changed much in a century, but a lot of evolution has happened to the body structure. Thanks to advanced high-strength steel grades from SSAB, Shape Corp. has been able to improve the body structure components of vehicles, with increased safety and reduced weight as a result.

The automotive industry has been constantly changing, which means that product development has been a key factor for not only being successful but also to stay successful. Today one of the megatrends is electrification. This isn’t simply a change of propulsion and energy storage; electrification means significant changes to a car’s body.

“An electric vehicle has a different centre of gravity because the battery modules are typically placed under the occupant,” explains Brian Oxley. “With different drive train structures, the car absorbs an impact differently. Also, the battery itself requires protection.”

Brian Oxley is an advanced product development specialist at Shape Corp., an engineering and manufacturing company specialising in impact management systems and body structure components for automobiles. Shape Corp. is a worldwide company with their located headquarter in Michigan, USA, and develop things such as the pillar structures around the passenger compartment and the front and rear bumpers.

“SSAB worked with us to develop the grade, and then helped supply the global market with it.”

Brian Oxley, advanced product development specialist at Shape Corp.

Steel that is thinner, stronger and usable

Steel is one of the main materials that Shape Corp. uses, more specifically Docol® steel. The collaboration with steel supplier SSAB has been ongoing for many years, and SSAB has developed stronger and thinner grades of steel as the needs of their customers change. This long-term quest for strength reflects the higher demands for safety and efficiency. At the same time, the thinner steel has the same safety aspects as the thicker one, but the advantage of weighing less and therefore makes it possible to lower the weight.

“I believe one of the first steels we used from SSAB was the Docol 1300M. This was primarily for bumpers,” Oxley continues. “We had been using 980, so it was a big leap to 1300. This was about 50 percent stronger, so we had to come up with innovative ways to be efficient and take advantage of the material.”

Stronger material is great, but you have to be able to make use of it. This is one of Shape Corp.’s major advantages: they are able to find innovative ways to form the steel into the correct shapes.

“SSAB’s Docol 1500M grade of steel was part of one of my first projects,” says Oxley. “We made geometric innovations and new bumper profiles. We made designs to fully utilise the strength of this material. Our customers accepted this solution, and today it is used in manufacturing facilities in the US, EU, Mexico and China.”

 

Improving safety while lowering costs

One of Shape Corp.’s most impressive innovations is the roof rail tube, the overhead section of the passenger compartment frame.

“There were similar applications in the market, but they used lower strength steel,” says Oxley. “We had an idea of using bending technology with higher strength steel, which was also lower cost.”

The process makes use of Shape Corp.’s technology to roll form and bend in a unique application. The stronger steel would improve safety for the passengers while the lower cost would improve OEMs’ bottom lines. The smaller profile would allow for better driver visibility, more interior space and give a better packaging of airbags. Yet they needed the right type of steel to work with.


A long co-creation partnership

Shape Corp. approached SSAB and explained the technical requirements of this stronger steel. In a collaborative process SSAB and Shape Corp. came up with the Docol® 1700M grade of steel. They used this to create new A-pillars with an improved strength-to-weight ratio of over 50 per cent, saving up to 4.5 kilograms per vehicle.

Shape Corp. showed Ford the new idea, who quickly adopted it into some of their most popular vehicles. In 2019 Shape Corp. won the 20th international Swedish Steel Prize for their novel use of martensitic steel in a formed tube for automotive roof rail applications.

“SSAB worked with us to develop the grade, and then helped supply the global market with it,” says Oxley. “We have had tremendous collaboration with them as they continually expand their grade offering and improve the strength and thickness. They also worked with us on other things, like coatings. A stronger material has more coating challenges.”

Now Shape Corp. and SSAB are working on a new challenge: flatness. The steel components need to have extremely precise and consistent dimensions so they can be properly welded. The two long-term partners have collaborated to develop a levelling process to deliver the flatness demanded from Shape Corp.’s customers.

“Time and again SSAB has been able to bring the solutions we need,” Oxley says.

About Shape Corp.

  • Shape Corp. was founded in 1974 and is based in Grand Haven, Michigan, USA.
  • They are a full service, tier-one automotive component supplier.
  • Shape Corp. are experts in steel body structure and bumper system components for autos.
  • They have a long history of process and material innovations in manufacturing.

www.shapecorp.com

 

SSAB steel used by Shape Corp.

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Docol® the automotive steel

SSAB innovates advanced high-strength steels for the automotive industry, providing its Docol® AHSS steels and expert resources to automakers so they can meet their lightweighting and crash performance goals.  

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