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Alcoa unveils major advance in aluminum manufacturing technology; new Micromill targeting future automotive aluminum products

Alcoa_Micromill_Overview_01-low
Alcoa’s Micromill has a much smaller footprint than conventional direct casting technology, and produces automotive aluminum alloys with 40% greater formability and 30% greater strength. Click to enlarge.

Alcoa has developed new manufacturing technology—the Micromill—that will produce what the company says is the most advanced aluminum sheet on the market. The Micromill will enable the next-generation of automotive aluminum products, and equip Alcoa to capture growing demand from automakers for lighter-weight, yet durable and formable materials.

The Alcoa-patented Micromill process significantly changes the microstructure of the metal, allowing the production of an aluminum alloy for automotive applications that has 40% greater formability and 30% greater strength than the incumbent aluminum used today while meeting stringent automotive surface quality requirements. The Alcoa Micromill technology and the differentiated metal it will produce are covered by more than 130 patents around the world.

Micromill_infographic_h

Additionally, automotive parts made with Micromill material will be twice as formable and at least 30% lighter than parts made from high strength steel. The Micromill alloy has formability characteristics comparable to mild steels.

Micromill aluminum sheet that is 40% more formable is easier to shape into intricate forms, such as the inside panels of automobile doors and external fenders, which today are generally made of steel. The 30% increase in material strength will improve dent resistance, enabling the production of automotive sheet that is thinner and even lighter than previous generations. Automakers will also benefit from reduced system cost by streamlining the number of aluminum alloys used in their manufacturing process.

It will also be the fastest, most productive aluminum casting and rolling system in the world, Alcoa claims. A traditional rolling mill takes around 20 days to turn molten metal into coil; Micromill does it in just 20 minutes.

The Micromill also has a significantly smaller footprint than a traditional rolling mill, at just one quarter the size, and lowers energy use by 50%.

According to Ducker Worldwide, North American aluminum automotive sheet content per vehicle is expected to increase eleven-fold between 2012 and 2025 as consumers demand cars that are lighter and more fuel efficient. The Micromill continuous casting technology is designed to meet that growing demand for automotive sheet, with the flexibility to serve the industrial and packaging markets as well. The mill can easily shift product mix, and transition to different alloys without ever stopping a cast.

Alcoa has secured a strategic development customer, and from its pilot Micromill facility in San Antonio, TX, has also conducted successful customer trials. Those trials have validated the Micromill material’s unique characteristics, surface quality for exterior panels and overall performance. Alcoa is qualifying the material for use in next-generation automotive platforms.

Comments

DaveD

Holy sheet metal, Batman. That's a serious breakthrough that will affect many things.

gorr

The more I read it, the more im eager to change my car for an aluminium one. But I need to wornout my car completely before changing it, it will happen past 2021 approx. A small 50 mpg used car bought after 2021 will satisfied me. Maybe a battery car with 400 miles range made completely of aluminium except steel bearings

cujet

A properly constructed aluminum body will last nearly forever. My Cessna aircraft is now 45 years old and still in excellent shape.

CheeseEater88

I am amazed that the process is improved so much, the new process is over 1000x faster and half the space. ^That boggles the mind.

I am holding out as long as I can with my current ride, hoping that I will be able to buy an aluminum car/SUV.

A lot of consumers are scared of the changeover, but I welcome it.... living in the rust belt, the last thing I want is a car that will rust before its usefulness has left it.
My current car has 176,000 miles on it and already has some perforation from rust. It is 12 years old, and is very functional. Cars could last almost indefinitely if they were made to not rust in the same manner steel cars do.

Engines and transmissions can easily handle 300,000 miles if properly cared for. I just see a world of increased efficiency via lightness added to cars, and cars that last far beyond those of today because of advanced materials. I am just waiting for Ford and others to trickle down the technology into other smaller platforms, but I do like that they started with the largest volume/polluter and are moving from there.

HarveyD

Yes CE88. When engines, exhaust systems, fuel tanks, radiators and transmissions are done away with, future AWD extended range aluminum-composites lighter BEVs could last at least twice as long (average) as today's rusty steel ICEVs.

What will be the total impact on steel mills, vehicle-parts-tires makers and repair shops?

kalendjay

Hopefully the total impact on steel mills will be the closure of the obsolescent ones, particularly in China, which serves them right for being unfair and frankly malevolent competitors.

But aluminum mills that are 150 feet long -- ie fit in a 30,000 sf building? With the right electrical service and negotiated rates, you can see one in every neighborhood! And drop off your soda cans there.

CheeseEater88

Harvey:

I highly doubt, BEVs will take over any ground other than the <200Mile range city dwellers and progressive types in Suburbia. I would kill for a 300+ EV on cost parity with an ICE

Also, unless retrofitting updated technology, like better density/range etcetera is a thing, odds are after 8-10 years that car will be scrapped. (Luckily, cars are one of the most highly recycled things, and almost all cars/parts are fed to the aftermarket/actually recycled)

Imagine, if you could buy a battery car... all aluminum for the sake of having it last for 20+ years, and know that in 5 years, when the battery may have 80% of its stickered capacity, an owner or others could actively bring the car to the newest iteration. That would sell cars knowing that there is a future for the platform.


My largest anxiety with a BEV is range anxiety... I am in the market for 1 car, not for 1 car and a rental/gas car. Until something with the model S's range (85Kwh comes) comes into the $40K price range, I probably won't be seriously considering them.

I keep cars for more than 10 years, if I have a 10yo car with 60-70% of the total range/capacity as new, I'd be a little nervous with todays offerings.

I want a Plug-in Hybrid version of an Expedition/F150 sized SUV/Truck... If I had 30-60 Mile range with EV only mode, I could see that cutting gas consumption significantly 50-100% for most round trips assuming I could charge before each one.

A capable full size BEV SUV will likely never exist in my price range.

As for the Steel mills, and parts suppliers go, I don't think much will change overall, for demand anyway.

Parts suppliers are very large, they will survive, even Takata will survive. Bosch, Johnson Controls, etcetera make more than just replacement parts, they sell mostly to OEMs.

As far as repair shops go, you will still need brakes, suspension and driveline parts(CV joints). Even with an all EV fleet, they will survive. Not having lube technicians will ultimately save service shops money. Good shops will make money.

Tires are a thing that is up in the air, if vehicles can shed 50% of their weight, odds are tires will last much longer. But the trade off is when you equip large amounts of batteries in a car.

I'm severely biased in my views though.

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