Aluminium offers countless possibilities and applications throughout as varied fields as automotive, building, mass transport and packaging. The light metal’s great versatility and unique properties make it a material of choice for many industries. No other metallic element can be used in so many ways across such a variety of domains.
Aluminium is a key component in so many aspects of our life – from the buildings we work in to the cars we drive, from the cans we drink out of to the flights we take. Its unique combination of properties - lightweight, strong, flexible, recyclable - make it ideal for an almost endless range of applications and an essential part of modern living.
Top markets for the industry are transportation and building / construction, both accounting for almost half of the total aluminium usage in end use applications, followed by the beverage cans and other packaging. Other uses include electrical applications, machinery & equipment and consumer durables.
Aluminium semi products consumption reached more than 45 millions tons in 2009. Strong growth is expected in the forthcoming years for the transportation and construction markets, which are expected to reach annual growth rates of 8,1% and 6,9% respectively in 2018.
The growth in the use of aluminium in transportation applications is noteworthy, particularly in light of the proliferation of alternative materials and global competition. Aluminium-intensive automobiles include the Audi A8 -with its aluminium body, aluminium front and rear axle, and numerous other aluminium components- and the Jaguar XK, with its aluminium monocoque body structure.
In 2006, aluminium overtook iron to become the second most used material in new cars and trucks worldwide. Automakers are increasingly choosing aluminium to improve fuel economy, reduce emissions and enhance vehicle performance. Today around 11 million tons of aluminium semis find their way into the transportation market and most of them are aluminium casting products.
Building and Construction
Buildings made with aluminium are virtually maintenance free due to the strength of aluminium's corrosion resistance. Due to the above properties and its unrivalled strength to weight ratio, aluminium is used in cladding, windows, skylights, gutters, door frames, and roofing. Insulated aluminium cladding is also very thermally efficient, keeping homes warm in winter, and cool in summer.
One layer of insulated aluminium cladding is as effective as four inches of brick or ten of stone. Aluminium can also be painted and used with other material to achieve a particular effect on the appearance of a building. The metal is extremely versatile and it can be curved, tapered, welded, bonded and cut to any shape in order to meet any requirement. The building market consumes annually around 11 million tons of semis with the majority being aluminium extrusions.
One of the most common end uses of aluminium is packaging, including drinks cans, foil wrappings, bottle tops and foil containers. Each of these relies on aluminium to provide a way of containing the food cleanly, and to protect it from changes in the local environment outside the packaging.
Aluminium's natural resistance to corrosion aids it in its role in packaging (and many other areas), as unlike in iron, aluminium oxide forms a protective and not destructive layer. Aluminium is also completely impermeable, (even when rolled into extremely thin foil), and also doesn't let the aroma or taste out of food packaging, the metal is non-toxic and aromaless itself too, making it perfect for packaging.
Text: Aluminum Association, Hydro
Photos: Reis Robotics, Green Architecture