The aluminum producer has developed a new manufacturing process that allows it to make an aluminum alloy that is 40% more formable and 30% stronger than existing aluminum.
That means, in short, that Alcoa is addressing in one fell swoop some of the major hurdles keeping aluminum from becoming a more pervasive material on vehicles. Using its Micromill technology, it is creating a more flexible, stronger aluminum that is 30% lighter than high-strength steel.
“Alcoa Micromill represents a major breakthrough in aluminum materials,” said Alcoa Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Klaus Kleinfeld. “This technology will unlock the next generation of automotive products with strength, formability and surface quality combinations never before possible.”
The amount of aluminum per vehicle is expected to increase elevenfold in North America from 2012 to 2025, according to Ducker Worldwide. Notably, Ford's 2015 F-150 already is being produced with an aluminum-alloy body.
What has hindered that greater adoption of aluminum, however, has largely been the lack of flexibility of aluminum. Because Micromill aluminum is 40% more formable, it will be easier to shape and thus be used for the parts like the inside panels of vehicle doors and external fenders that are traditionally made with steel, Alcoa says.
Alcoa already has conducted successful customer trials with the product in San Antonio, and is qualifying the material for next-generation automobiles.