The allure of Alucobond

By Andy Barks

November 2008- One of the common traits among successful businesses is the ability to recognize and seize opportunities, even when they present themselves in an area that may not be a firm’s specialty. Companies that capitalize on market trends often find themselves venturing into new and different realms, and those with the resources to adjust usually expand their capabilities and their clientele.

And is this case with post-merger aluminum giant Rio Tinto Alcan, Montreal, whose foray into the composite industry recently resulted in a 2008 BEX Awardfor its Alucobond product as the Best Use of Architectural or Structural Design.

Aluminum to architectural
Having cemented its status as one of the world leaders in the aluminum supply business, Rio Tinto is rapidly making a presence in the architectural sector. Alucobond, a light composite material composed of two aluminum cover sheets and a plastic or mineral core, is being praised for its versatility and compatibility as a building material. Its use in a Dortmund, Germany, housing development allowed architects to seamlessly integrate different themes and color palettes, primarily thanks to its rigid, stylish and attractive design.

"Alucobond comes in an unrivaled range of colors that facilitated the exact color scheme the architect was trying to achieve," says Guntam Eydner, marketing manager at Alcan Composites. "[It] exhibits extraordinary flatness, as seen in the Dortmund project, while also being formable to cater to more modern, curved facades. It’s a user-friendly, versatile and stylish cladding material."

Although the composite has been around for about 40 years, only recently have its benefits been recognized. It’s no coincidence that those benefits, which include an optimized rigidity/weight ratio, perfect flatness, easier formability, greater capacity to absorb noise or vibration and an economical installation process, are being valued more greatly in this era of reformed eco-consciousness.

Varied versatility
Aluminum composites can also provide versatility. Although the main market is within architectural and corporate identity applications, products such as Alucobond can also be used for display, transportation or home furnishing purposes. Its relative abundance and simple application process make it increasingly prevalent in a variety of forms.

"It can be used to make stylish furniture or creative signage," adds Eydner. "Alucobond is processed with a high-quality paint system applied in a continuous coil-coating process, which gives the material its visually attractive qualities. This is the reason it’s always used on the visible side of any structure, no matter the application."

Maybe more attractive than its physical qualities, however, is its potential impact on the volatile housing and construction markets. That was the theory behind the Dortmund project, which was considering alternative, yet economical, methods in the consolidation of its residential housing. Using Alucobond as its primary paneling composite, the city transformed a site built in the 1960s into a "retrofit" development without demolishing the original structures.

Eydner also says that at the top of the itinerary for Alcan Composities is an emphasis on quality innovation in all its products. Undoubtedly, the use of aluminum in architectural applications has skyrocketed in the past couple years as steel’s availability and cost have fluctuated.

As long as those innovations continue to be environmentally inspired, there ought to be a market for aluminum composites, and in turn, for Rio Tinto Alcan. The company’s unabashed venture into the architectural sector seems to have paid off--until, of course, the predictably unpredictable market forces further adjustments. MM

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