Effect of manufacturing processes on formability and surface topography of proton exchange membrane fuel cell metallic bipolar plates
Metallic bipolar plates in PEM fuel cells offer low-volume, low-mass and low-cost stack fabrication in addition to superior durability when compared to composite bipolar plates, which suffer due to their much higher thickness and less durability. This study aims to address the formability and surface topography issues of metallic bipolar plates fabricated by stamping and hydroforming technologies. Particular emphasis was given to process repeatability, surface topology, and dimensional quality of bipolar plates that would greatly affect the corrosion and contact resistance characteristics. Thin metal sheets of several alloys (i.e., SS304, SS316L, SS430, Ni270, Ti grades 1 and 2) were used in the fabrication experiments. SS304 and SS316L were shown to possess better formability when compared to other alloys that were used in this study, while SS430 and Ti grade 2 demonstrated the worst among all. Channel formability was observed to be greatly affected by the hydroforming pressure, while it does not differ much above certain level of stamping force. The confocal microscopy analyses showed that surface roughness values of the formed samples were altered significantly when compared to the initial flat blanks. In general, increasing hydroforming pressure and stamping force yielded higher surface roughness values at channel peaks. In addition, the surface topography was shown to be influenced mainly by the pressure level rather than the pressure rate in hydroforming process.