Because the metal is more formable, parts that were previously constructed of several components may be produced as a single piece. That not only reduces complexity and assembly time, but could potentially affect the nature and cost of repairs to those components if they are damaged.
The combination of light-weighting and simplifying production processes has made Ford extremely bullish on the metal.
“The door inner is one of the most difficult parts in automotive stamping,” said Peter Friedman, Ford global manager of structures and stamping, Research & Advanced Engineering. “The ability to produce an alloy using Alcoa’s Micromill technology to make that part is a real statement for how this process can benefit the automotive industry and Ford in particular. This technology will help Ford to produce the type of vehicles our customers want. We believe the technology can be used to develop new alloys that will improve our ability to form complex parts, which will help in both design and efficiency.”
According to Reuters, Alcoa is in talks with eight other automakers to use Micromill technology.
Alcoa has been rapidly ramping up its automotive business. In September, the company announced it had completed a $300-million expansion at its Tennessee facility to supply aluminum sheet to automakers, including Ford, Fiat Chrysler, and GM. An earlier expansion location in Davenport, Iowa, reported a 200 percent increase in automotive sheet shipments in the second quarter of 2015 compared to the same period last year.
The new Tennessee location includes rolling mill technology that will allow the company to quickly switch production from automotive to can sheet, and also includes a recycling facility for automotive scrap.
Alcoa expects to grow its automotive sheet revenue from $229 million in 2013 to $1.3 billion in 2018. Ducker Worldwide has forecast that the aluminum body sheet content in North American vehicles would increase by three times from 2012 to 2015, and expand 11 times by 2025.