Light Alloys

Innovations: Light Alloys

If we have learned nothing else after surviving 2009, we should all understand the importance of keeping an eye on the future in order to assure survival and, more important, prosperity. Research and development efforts must remain at the top of our “to do lists” especially now, as we address the current business climate.

The challenges that will arise from the increased demand for better fuel efficiencies and
environmental clean-up will be an increased
need for better and
lighter construction materials.

In order to understand the ramifications of today’s economy, all of us, regardless of our job title, must think and talk about the future needs of our customers. We all have heard the buzz about the environment. We’ve heard about the search for more natural resources. And in a world that is becoming more green, we have heard about energy conservation. Meeting the demands of a greener planet is paramount to our economic revival (and survival).

As the search for natural resources continues, industry should be stepping up to the challenge of alternative energy, such as wind power and the cleanest (and safest) power generation at our fingertips, nuclear. Europe, led by France, historically anti-nuclear, is now a proponent. The United Kingdom, at one time in the midst of de-commissioning its nuclear facilities is now re-commissioning a number of mothballed nuclear facilities.

Transportation consumes a copious amount of resources. Unlike the United States, much of the rest of the world is addressing the issue with a growing emphasis on rail transportation. Today in China, for instance, 300 km/hr (+/- 200 mph) trains are being built on a daily basis, all with Euro-pean-engineered technology.

When it comes to automobile manufacturing and creating product that will more efficiently utilize fuel, the European auto industry is leading the way here as well. In response to fuel costs which are four times more expensive than those found in the U.S., automobile manufacturers have begun utilizing lighter weight materials. The average European-manufactured vehicle is comprised of 85 percent aluminum, which contributes to a dramatic reduction in weight and thus increased gas mileage. American-made vehicles contain only 15 percent aluminum. More European automobiles are now using diesel and flex fuel systems to attain still greater gas mileage.

The one transportation segment in which the U.S. excels is in the truck trailer industry. Vast amounts of aluminum are used for building all types of trailers. This is a practice which was established a number of years ago. So why aren’t we utilizing the same technology in the manufacture of personal vehicles?

Lighter Metals Require Lighter Alloys
The challenges that will arise from the increased demand for better fuel efficiencies and environmental clean-up will include an increased need for better and lighter construction materials, in particular aluminum. We also will see increased demand for better joining methods that incorporate welding products and welding consumables.

There will be an increased need for revolutionary new aluminum welding alloys that will meet the requirements of today and tomorrow. The newest alloy to hit the marketplace, currently called X4043P, to be eventually classified as 4143, is the first to be introduced since the late 1950s. A variation of the 5 percent silicon-based alloy and exhibiting a superior strength than normally associated with the well-known 4043 alloy, it will take the place of a number of alloys in its particular group. The “old” 4043 alloy has long been a welder favorite due to its welding ease and wetting out capabilities; the 4143 will build on those characteristics while meeting future marketplace demands.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Grahame Savage Meet the Author
Grahame Savage is vice president of marketing & sales at Maxal Inc., located in Traverse City, Michigan, and on the Web at www.maxal.com.