Aluminum Sheet Advancement in the Automotive Industry

Available in a wide array of thicknesses, aluminum sheet is thicker than aluminum foil but thinner than metal plate. It typically ranges from 0.006 inches up to 0.080 inches. In that range, its slitting capabilities generally run from a slit width of one-quarter inch up to 36 inches wide, with core sizes of 6 inches, 12 inches or 16 inches. Its sheet capabilities in that same range are 2 inches wide up to 180 inches long, non-tissue interleaved.

Construction MMI recently ran an article titled “European Aluminum Sheet Price Drops 5.9% On Weekly Construction Index.” In addition, “following a steady week, prices for Chinese aluminum bar closed flat.” These falling prices are good news for businesses that require it as part of their daily operations. One of the industries that will most benefit from this drop in cost is the automotive one.

In a white paper titled “An Economic Analysis of Aluminum Sheet Production” culled from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) archives, the author “evaluates the prospects of aluminum sheets as a cost-efficient alternative to steel in autobodies with the unibody design.” In particular, the research studies the “processing technologies and alloy selection” behind it for the automotive industry. It then examines these factors impact.

The paper stresses that “the volatility in the price of aluminum ingot has a critical influence on the price of the sheet.” Published in the year 2000, the research concluded that “the cost of aluminum sheet is currently far too high to be a viable replacement of steel.”

But a lot has changed in the 12 years since the study was conducted and its results were published. Indeed, the Aluminum Association, Inc. estimates that in 2009, 6,228,000,000, or 6.228 billion, pounds of aluminum were used by the transportation industry as a whole. That figure represents 28.1% of total aluminum consumption. It also makes the Transportation sector the largest North American market for aluminum.

As the white paper points out, “The large fixed costs associated with aluminum sheet production result in economies of scale and favor large fabrication facilities”… like those that manufacture automobiles. Couple the advancing technologies being developed for aluminum with the lowering costs of the commodity and aluminum sheet will likely become an even more in-demand product for automotive manufacturers in the years to come.

One of those advancements is the ability to weld it using a high-powered diode laser. A second welding research white paper took a look at fillet welds in the lap joints of alloy aluminum sheet. “It was found that production of fillet welds lap joints in aluminum sheet with the diode laser is feasible for industrial use and may be especially useful for welding of hem joints in automotive closure panels.”

But transportation isn’t the only industry benefit from the price drops. Domestically, Containers & Packaging and Building & Construction, in conjunction with Transportation, account for 62% of industrial aluminum usage. Consumer Durables, Electrical, Machinery & Equipment and Other round out the nation’s aluminum use while exported aluminum make up the remainder.

Posted in Industry.