Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Not exactly sci fi, but...

I remember something in Star Trek about glass made from aluminum polymer... we're on our way. -NF

June 14, 2006 2:58 a.m. EDT

Novelis Unveils New Process To Solidify, Roll Aluminum

By PAUL GLADERJune 14, 2006 2:58 a.m.

MONTREAL -- Executives from aluminum roller Novelis Inc. say they have a new process for solidifying and rolling aluminum called "fusion" that will create a higher quality aluminum product to rival steel and other materials on applications ranging from high-end stoves to automobile doors.

But outside observers say the company will have plenty of challenges as it launches the material to compete with other aluminum products by rival companies as well as steel and other materials as cost comparison is still a factor for premium metal products.

Executives from the Atlanta-based aluminum rolling company say they plan to make about 70,000 tons of the new products at their rolling mill in Oswego, N.Y., this year, which is less than 10% of the aluminum capacity at that mill. Novelis CEO Brian Sturgell said about 25 customers have purchased and are using the material. But the company hopes to ramp up production at that plant and other plants if consumer demand -- among architects, designers, car companies and other manufacturers -- grows for the new product.

Mr. Sturgell announced the process and product during his presentation at an aluminum conference in Montreal on Tuesday. "This is a game-changing technology," he said. "It's the first technological breakthrough in aluminum solidification in decades." The company said it spent well under $100 million to develop the project and retrofit its mill equipment to make the metal.
While Novelis executives described their process as a breakthrough, rival aluminum company Alcoa Inc. said it has a similar process that has been in operation since November of 2005.
Alcoa, the Pittsburgh-based aluminum giant, calls its process "simultaneous multi-alloy continuous casting," or SMACC, and says it also has patents on its technology. Alcoa spokesman Kevin Lowery said their product can be used in aerospace applications while Novelis is not likely to do so. "I think people will see the difference between our products and others," he said. "We have significant points of difference."

Novelis didn't claim its product would be used in aerospace but cited several other markets including automotive, appliances and architecture applications.

Most traditional ingots are made with a single alloy rather than combining alloys in such a sandwich fashion, according to Novelis executives. They said that many companies, for many years, had used a lower-tech and higher cost method of coating ingots with other alloys but the process was mechanical rather than metallurgical. But the new processes by Novelis and Alcoa are changing that scenario.

Novelis said its technology creates an aluminum ingot in a sandwich fashion, with one or more layers of aluminum alloys that are bonded together metallurgically. The large ingot can then be rolled into a sheet product with different properties on the inside and the outside of the sheet. Tomas Eager, a materials engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a consultant to the company on the project, said the result is aluminum with "a new level of flexibility on an industrial scale."

"It is clearly a major development," said Adam Rowley, a commodities and mining analyst at Macquarie Bank Ltd in London. "You can see all the different opportunities but you have to see how the customers react to it." He said Novelis and other aluminum companies could be focusing on improving aluminum products in the future to rival other materials but noted that the industry sometimes leaves product development to each individual company and lacks the cohesive research and development efforts among companies in the copper and steel industries.

Ron Krupitzer, an executive with the American Iron and Steel Institute in Detroit, said the Fusion and SMACC materials could represent a new round of competition between steel and aluminum in the automotive industry but said the steel industry has a cost advantage. "If they are talking about competing in automotive with a higher cost product, they have to be very careful," he said. "When it comes to the cost of materials, aluminum is already at the higher end."

Novelis is the largest company focused solely on recycling aluminum cans and making aluminum rolled products from ingots. It was created in 2005, when spun off from Canadian aluminum company Alcan Inc.

Write to Paul Glader at paul.glader@wsj.com1

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1 comment:

Budd said...

Isn't this what samurais used for years to craf swords?