General Motors first came on the scene as an innovator of aluminum machining technology in 2008 when they employed spot-welding to weld small amounts of aluminum to aluminum on a lift gate vehicle – now a mainstream and widely used technique for welding aluminum. This year, GM has broken another fabrication barrier by welding steel and aluminum together.

As manufacturers face increasingly strict fuel efficiency standards and as consumers demand higher fuel economy the race is on to find lighter (and cost-effective) ways to produce automobiles. GM saw this challenge early and invested over one million dollars into developing a never before used technique for welding steel to aluminum. By welding the two metals directly together, the use for traditional riveting is eliminated – saving materials, weight, cost, and time. 

The different melting points of steel and aluminum created a major challenge for developers, as well as oxides that are present in aluminum and can cause weld failures. The research and development, however, has paid off – with a new successful technique in place that welds steel directly to aluminum and can be used in limitless applications.

Manufacturers aren’t stopping at aluminum machining innovation, though. GM has expressed interest in also using magnesium – a metal lighter than both aluminum and steel – in their production. Aluminum is much more cost effective than magnesium, however, so it remains a favorite for mass production and fabrication. 

As a partner of the National Material Company steel group, we work closely with NMC to deliver high quality aluminum and steel products to our customers in a wide array of applications. With GM’s new aluminum-to-steel welding technology emerging, who knows just how close the aluminum and steel fields will become in the near future.