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Senator Mikulski Tours Auto Lightweighting Center at NIST

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U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher hear a presentation from NIST researcher Mark Iadicola as part of tour of the NIST Center for Automotive Lightweighting.

Guest blog post by Patrick Gallagher, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director

Doubling automobile fuel economy by 2025. Reducing the weight of automobiles by up to half a ton each while maintaining or improving safety. Saving millions of dollars annually in redesign and re-tooling costs. These are some of the ambitious auto industry goals supported by the Center for Automotive Lightweighting at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Yesterday we were honored to host a visit by U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) to the lightweighting center. As chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Mikulski came to the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, Md., as part of her continuing “Jobs Tour” in the state.

She also gave a talk to NIST staff about the recently enacted Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. The act provides $850 million in appropriations for NIST work through October 2014. Included is a $30 million increase in funding for advanced manufacturing research. Such research provides manufacturers with the data and measurement tools and technologies they need to continually improve their products and compete in the global marketplace.

Established in 2006, the lightweighting center helps the auto industry stay competitive by developing new measurement methods and collecting critical data on the properties of lighter weight automotive alloys and composites. During the tour, Senator Mikulski was shown samples of new high-strength steels and aluminum and magnesium alloys that weigh up to 65 percent less and yet are stronger than the traditional mild steels that have been used in vehicles for the past 100 years.

NIST-developed research instruments installed at the center twist, press, stretch and squeeze the new lightweight materials to better understand how they will perform when shaped into automotive parts, including predicting safety during crash tests. The resulting data and analysis of the materials behavior help companies reduce expensive trial and error testing. By sharing fundamental materials properties data like this, the NIST center allows individual manufacturers to use more of their own scarce research dollars to leapfrog to better company-specific solutions and improved products.

More than 30 companies and research universities, including five automakers, have expressed interest in a new NIST Automotive Lightweighting Consortium now being formed.

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