ShareThis Page
Business Headlines

Alcoa says process steps up competition between aluminum and steel in automotive market

| Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, 4:51 p.m.
Alcoa Inc. developed Micromill technology that products aluminum alloy for automotive uses that is 40 percent easier to shape and 30 percent stronger than previous aluminum alloy. The mill at a pilot plant in San Antonio, Texas, reduces the time to transform molten metal to a full coil of aluminum sheet from 20 days to 20 minutes.
Alcoa Inc. developed Micromill technology that products aluminum alloy for automotive uses that is 40 percent easier to shape and 30 percent stronger than previous aluminum alloy. The mill at a pilot plant in San Antonio, Texas, reduces the time to transform molten metal to a full coil of aluminum sheet from 20 days to 20 minutes.

Alcoa Inc. said it can make aluminum sheet that's stronger, easier to shape and less expensive to produce with “breakthrough” technology that will step up competition with steel in the automotive market.

The mill process will reduce the time it takes to convert molten aluminum to coil from 20 days to 20 minutes. The new alloy is 30 percent lighter and twice as formable as high-strength steel automakers use, Alcoa said Thursday. Its ability to be shaped is comparable to mild steel used in auto bodies for 75 years.

The aluminum maker is working with an unidentified automotive manufacturer to develop the process and has conducted successful trials at a pilot plant in San Antonio.

“Alcoa Micromill represents a major breakthrough in aluminum materials,” said CEO Klaus Kleinfeld in a statement. “This technology will unlock the next generation of automotive products with strength, formability and surface quality combinations never before possible.”

Alcoa said trials validated the material's surface quality for exterior panels and performance. Kleinfeld said that will allow automakers to produce lighter, more fuel-efficient and more stylish vehicles.

“It looks like it has the potential to be a big deal,” said Lloyd T. O'Carroll, senior analyst at Northcoast Research. “Obviously the auto market is huge, and to the extent this process can meet production and quality requirements will determine its success.”

Automakers are turning to lighter-weight materials, such as aluminum, as they gear up to meet the government's target for cars to get 54.5 miles per gallon of fuel by 2025.

Analysts expect them to switch to full-scale production using aluminum in their best-selling vehicles.

Alcoa has a contract with Ford Motor Co. to make aluminum sheet for the body of the new F-150 pickup, which is 700 pounds lighter than the previous model because of its aluminum content.

The Micromill process underscores the importance of new technology and the company's desire to cut production costs, said Ray Kilmer, Alcoa's technology chief. Engineers at the Alcoa Technical Center in Upper Burrell are working on process and alloy development, he said.

The process “makes aluminum a drop-in substitute for mild steel in applications where before we couldn't go,” Kilmer said.

Mild steel “has been a benchmark for body structures. The problem is it's too heavy. With aluminum we already have lightweight, and we are getting strength and more formability through the Micromill.

“Now we have the level of formability that the auto industry is used to, and now they can do it with aluminum alloy,” Kilmer added. “It's a green process, too — one quarter of the size of an existing mill, and uses less energy and less water.”

To increase use of the process, Alcoa could expand the Texas plant or build a new facility in another location, he said.

The New York-based company employs about 2,000 in the Pittsburgh area — at its corporate operations center on the North Shore, the Technical Center, and Traco Co., a window manufacturer in Cranberry.

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or joravecz@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me