What’s ahead for aluminum?

By Lauren Duensing

November 2012 - Most consumers are familiar with a sleek aluminum enclosure for their electronics. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs favored the look and sustainable nature of the material, and he expanded its uses beyond his company’s products to a custom yacht, which was christened at the end of October in the Dutch shipyard where it was built. Named Venus, the yacht has a hull made entirely of aluminum, in addition to teak decks and a wheelhouse powered by seven iMacs.

Beyond individual high-profile projects, however, the entire aluminum market is headed in a positive direction. Demand for the light metal has increased almost 7 percent this year, compared with last year’s numbers, said Heidi Brock, president of the Arlington, Va.-based Aluminum Association during the Aluminum Week 2012 press roundtable. 

Pat Franc, Aluminum Association chairman and president and CEO of Tri-Arrows Aluminum, Louisville, Ky., noted aluminum is a “bellwether material” of the economy’s health because it’s tethered to many critical industries, such as automotive and transportation, electrical cable—even green building solutions, a market in which aluminum is poised for growth once construction picks up. 

Franc said aluminum can provide a lot of environmental answers, “from airplanes all the way down to consumer products.” Randall Scheps, marketing director, automotive sheet, for Alcoa, Pittsburgh, added recycled content will be a point of interest when developing new automotive alloys. “That will start in Europe,” Scheps said. “European carmakers will want to communicate to their customers that their cars have recycled content.”

He also said as a result of European pedestrian impact requirements, “we’re working on alloys that are more pedestrian-impact friendly. There are things you can do in the design of the sheet and the design of the front end of the car that can make it much less dangerous for a pedestrian impact.”

The amount of aluminum in an average automobile continues to increase, and Scheps said the aluminum mills must form partnerships with carmakers “to get the rolling capability in place in time to meet demand. We have to partner earlier with the carmakers to make sure from a rolling standpoint that we’re ready to deliver. … Because the growth is so rapid in aluminum, we need to talk to them a little earlier in the process to make sure we get the capacity in place.”

The road ahead for aluminum includes expanded applications in automotive and beyond. In addition to several interesting topics in this issue, we have highlighted aluminum in three of this month’s features. 

For an overview of the market, go to “Aluminum adaptability;” for a look at the aerospace industry there’s “Tradition and innovation;” and for details on manifold bar’s impact on machining costs, go to “Advanced aluminum.” MM 

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