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Service Centers
Wednesday | 13 September, 2017 | 10:00 am

Critical surfaces

By Corinna Petry

Above: Fulton Center, a transit center and retail complex in New York City, is brightened by Alanod’s WhiteOptics products that reflect and diffuse light.

Toll processor/distributor adjusts focus to move with changes in lighting technology

September 2017 - Just as a highly reflective surface will increase the brightness of any light source, a service center based in northeast Ohio wants to increase the diffusion of its multiple processing capabilities.

Alanod-Westlake was established in 1974 as Westlake Metal Industries, selling flat-rolled and extruded aluminum products. In 1978 the service center added a sheeting line and began specializing in surface-critical, decorative sheet products for the appliance and lighting industries.

By the mid-1990s Westlake Metal became a toll processor for Germany’s Alanod GmbH, a huge international brand name in lighting surfaces. Westlake supplied anodized aluminum sheets and blanks to Alanod’s North American customers. In partnership with Alanod, Westlake soon added a slitter to provide fast service and high-quality slit coils to the same growing customer base. In 2007, Alanod acquired a controlling interest in Westlake and three years later purchased the remaining shares and physical assets.

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Bright, surface-critical materials like PVD-coated anodized aluminum produced by Alanod in Germany and processed in Ohio for North American customers have found expression in architectural applications as well as in commercial lighting.

Mike Mooney, president of the North Ridgeville, Ohio-based Alanod-Westlake, describes the parent as a German coil anodizing company that developed a  technology called physical vapor deposition (PVD). Designed for commercial lighting, the technology is trademarked Miro. PVD applies vaporized aluminum or silver to anodized aluminum coil to enhance the surface and increase its reflectivity by up to 98 percent.

“The purpose is to increase the light output on various aluminum surfaces, including bright sheet,” Mooney says. Alanod-Westlake also processes and distributes white painted products for other lighting applications. “We supply almost any flat-rolled metal surface for the lighting market.”

After Alanod introduced Miro, demand skyrocketed in the 1990s and 2000s. “They were exporting this material in such high volume that they needed a warehouse/processing center in North America—the largest consuming market for these products,” says Mooney.

Westlake was already known for its ability to handle critical metal surfaces, and Alanod sought a partner “to handle silver on aluminum—very bright, beautiful material whose surface has to be flawless. We were one of several processors with which Alanod performed trials. We were selected because we provided the best quality in handling critical surfaces,” Mooney says.

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Processing prowess

Today, the company operates the slitter and two slears: 60 inches and 48 inches wide. “We can slit and shear in a single pass, which provides tremendous efficiencies,” Mooney says. “Even service centers with their own slitting and sheeting equipment come to Westlake for toll processing because we hold tight tolerances especially in surface-critical material.”

In most cases, he says, the toll customers never see their metal. “They have their mill or coater ship directly to us for processing and we ship directly to their customer. We serve as their quality department and provide 100 percent inspection for them.”

With its slears, Alanod-Westlake can load a 48- or 60- inch-wide coil and slit it into six widths and shear to length in one process,” says Mooney.

Out of necessity, the company has also become an expert at applying protective films, and holds a large inventory of such films with various tack levels.

A customer can laser cut, roll form or stamp the part and then remove the film—keeping the surface clean and smooth during multiple processes. That protection is necessary during transportation, too.

Because the anodized, PVD-coated sheets and blanks are shipped to customers across North America, Alanod-Westlake stocks material in warehouses from Canada to Mexico, Mooney says. “We run stocking programs for large OEMs and most of our deliveries are just in time so we must have inventory available at all times.”

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Alanod-Westlake’s 52-inch-wide slitter.

Racine Metal-Fab in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, has sourced reflective aluminum products from Alanod-Westlake for at least 15 years, says Andy Pike, director of customer development. “Racine Metal-Fab fabricates highly aesthetic sheet metal components and assemblies, often for lighting fixtures and appliances, so the material has to look nice.”

Pike says the material he specifies cannot be sourced “anywhere else in the world,” so being able to get it, quickly, in North America is “a big deal for us.”

Because Alanod-Westlake stocks the material, he says the service center “responds very quickly to our need. They bring in the master coil from Germany, slit and sheet it and create specialized coils for us and, in a lot of cases, they give us a one-day turnaround.”

Changing circumstances

Alanod-Westlake’s success hit a bit of a snag, however, with the invention and rapid, wide-scale adoption of light-emitting diode technology (LED), which has usurped traditional incandescent and fluorescent lighting in millions of homes and businesses.

“We are now trying to change and grow into other areas because the lighting industry changed so dramatically and quickly with the movement to LED,” Mooney says. As a result, “demand for the mirror and louver material we provide has declined. The parent, Alanod, responded by investing in a company, WhiteOptics, which produces super highly reflective white-surface materials specifically for diffusing LED lights. The WhiteOptics products are available on both steel and aluminum substrates and are processed at Alanod-Westlake.

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Alanod-Westlake processes metal for appliances, automotive, solar energy, decorative and cosmetic applications.

Follow the sun

In a quest to capture “green” business, Alanod-Westlake now also works with surfaces made for solar absorption, solar optics, daylighting (solar tubes) and LED optics, according to Mooney.

In Germany, Alanod added a coil coating line to provide a protective coating to make exterior-grade Miro and anodized materials. Some customers put these materials in outdoor lighting, solar mirrors or accent pieces of exterior architectural panels. Likewise, Alanod-Westlake “can process and deliver an exterior grade, warrantied product on mirrored and decorative surfaces,” says Mooney.

The Ohio service center also distributes the parent company’s decorative bright and brushed surfaces for automotive, appliance and decorative foils for high-pressure laminate and cosmetic markets.

Alanod-Westlake is actively pursuing growth in such end markets as architecture, appliance and automotive. “The majority of what runs through our facility is aluminum, but we also toll process stainless, titanium, and painted cold-rolled steel,” says Mooney.

“We have an excellent reputation for service and for processing critical surfaces. We have a very good, experienced workforce that knows our customers inside and out,” he adds.

With its ongoing diversification and market expansion efforts, Mooney hopes the addition of new business will illuminate a path to future success. MM

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