At the request of automakers, Alcoa Inc. is making its patented Alcoa 951 bonding process available to competitors who also supply aluminum to the auto industry.
Alcoa 951 coats aluminum to prevent corrosion and prepare the surface for adhesives. It will help automakers produce more structural load-bearing parts made of aluminum.
Novelis Inc., another major aluminum supplier, says it can use Alcoa 951 but has its own coating.
Automakers are counting on aluminum to help boost fuel economy to meet the government-mandated 54.5-mpg fleet average by 2025. Alcoa expects demand for aluminum parts to double in the next decade.
In January, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford Motor Co. is expected to introduce the next-generation F-150 pickup with extensive use of aluminum in the body. Several vehicles, such as Land Rover’s Range Rover, the Jaguar XKF and Audi A8, already use complete bodies – including doors — made of aluminum.
The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette has a lightweight aluminum frame held together with glue, screws and welds.
Virtually all vehicles with aluminum body parts use some type of adhesive to join the parts, often in conjunction with screws or rivets and, in some cases, welds.
Most aluminum panels on today’s vehicles are hoods, trunks and parts that don’t bear a load. Automakers want strong bonds so aluminum can be used in more structural parts that carry loads.
Steel car bodies are constructed with electric welds, but welds are tricky with aluminum because oxides on the surface of the metal can prevent a strong bond. General Motors says it has solved that problem with a new type of dome-shaped electrode that is used to conduct current to fuse two pieces together.
Alcoa spokesman Kevin Lowery said the company rarely shares its proprietary technology with competitors but is doing so with 951 “at the request of automakers.” He declined to name the automakers that applied the pressure.
“Alcoa 951 is the enabler to move from those ‘hang-on’ applications to the true structural body-in-white applications,” said Randall Scheps, Alcoa’s director for automotive sheet business.
Automakers loathe having a single supplier for a component and usually can bargain for lower prices when multiple suppliers are competing.
Alcoa has licensed the 951 process to Chemetall, a German company that specializes in chemicals that treat metals and plastics. Chemetall will produce and sell the Alcoa 951 to aluminum suppliers and pay Alcoa a fee.
Neil Hirsch, a spokesman for Novelis, says his company can supply aluminum with Alcoa 951 as well as other pretreatments. Novelis, he said, offers its own pretreatment coating and is working on an advanced version.