Rich, metallic look and feel

By Lauren Duensing

Alcoa’s ColorKast helps consumer electronics manufacturers create lightweight, cost-effective enclosures

August 2012- Consumers have a wide variety of personalities. From those who wait in long lines to get their hands on the latest technology to those who pick out a phone because it’s their favorite color, electronics manufacturers need to provide potential buyers with a product that reflects their individuality. 

Leighton Cooper, director of technology, Global Rolled Products, says that Alcoa developed its latest alloy, ColorKast, as a result of an overwhelming consumer desire for colored metallic devices.

“We developed ColorKast for the consumer electronics industry, specifically for enclosures and casings,” says Cooper. “[It] opens up a whole new market for us in the portable consumer electronics area—OEMs that want the look and feel of aluminum with the cost advantages of die castings.

“The concept came about through a front-end process here at our research and development center,” he continues, beginning with an analysis of consumer and market needs. “If we developed an anodizable die-cast product, we felt it would meet the needs of the market for creating lower-cost, higher-quality metallic parts.”

ColorKast is an aluminum-based alloy that can produce high-strength, color anodizable aluminum die cast components. The alloy gives manufacturers the ability to die cast these parts, replacing the expensive and time-consuming CNC machining process.

“From a design standpoint, it really combines the cost and the ability to create a true metallic look and feel,” Cooper says. “Previously for enclosures, the options were plastic, which is a good material but it doesn’t give that richer high-end look. If you wanted to get a metallic look, you had to do one of two things. You could take a sheet and stamp it and make a part, but you can’t embed 3-D elements into sheet, so you have to weld parts into it, and that becomes costly. The other option was to take a thick piece of aluminum and machine it to the configuration. That becomes quite expensive.”

Another option OEMs could consider prior to the development of ColorKast was magnesium die-cast parts, which are pretty prevalent, he says. “The problem with magnesium die-cast parts, however, is you don’t get the metallic look and feel. They have to paint them, which makes it tough to differentiate between a painted part and a plastic part. That’s not necessarily what the consumer or the OEM wants.”

Samsung currently is using the technology for the control panel on its NX201 compact camera. “Engaging with Samsung really validated the concept, which allowed us to move it forward in developing it with them,” Cooper says.

Other potential uses include smartphone housing; mobile accessories, such as color-matched tablet stands and color-matched earphones; LED lamps; and non-electronics applications such as furniture decorations with colorful exposures or handle, button and knob fixtures.

“At this point, ColorKast is very much conducive to smaller parts,” Cooper says. “We are looking at larger laptop covers as a next-generation type of ColorKast technology. We have Samsung introduced to the part, we have more business coming from them, we’ve got two other leading OEMs that we’re working with and we’ve had interest from some leading furniture manufacturers,” he notes. “So it will be interesting to see how far we can pull it, but, for the time being, we’re definitely concentrating on the CE market.” MM


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