Alcoa Howmet, located in suburban Paris, uses cutting edge technology to produce components for aerospace and other industries where exacting manufacturing standards are the norm. In addition to castings using aluminum, titanium and proprietary superalloys, Alcoa Howmet also provides value added services to the industry such as contract management, thermal coating, hot isostatic pressing, and machining.
Aluminum in Jewelry and Art
Today, we think of aluminum as primarily an industrial material, but it is a metal that has only recently been commercialized. One hundred fifty years ago, it was more expensive than gold, and was used exclusively in jewellery and other luxury items. Kings were crowned with aluminum, and royalty adorned their bodies and their tables with aluminum objects. Metalsmiths appreciated the fact that it was easy to work and didn’t lose its silvery lustre. It was often alloyed with gold and other precious metals. Even after aluminum processing became cheap enough for the metal to be used more generally, it was still a popular medium for sculptures and other works of art. Many objects created during the Art Deco movement, for instance, are made of aluminum.
Art Deco sculpture made of aluminum
By the late 1880’s, aluminum began to be produced in commercial quantities, and its resistance to corrosion made it ideal for outdoor applications such as furniture, streetlamps, window casings, kitchenware, utensils and outdoor art, uses that it is still being put to today. However, aluminum is more than just ductile, pretty and resistant. It is also lightweight and strong, and these characteristics are what led to the rapid increase in its use as an industrial material.
Aluminum Revolutionizes Manufacturing, Aviation in Particular
By the end of WWII, aluminum´s special advantages were being taken advantage of in a wide variety of industries, allowing the manufacture of more efficient airplanes and motors. Beverage cans were much cheaper when made with aluminum and easier to recycle. Aluminum furniture in public buildings was easier to install, and more durable than upholstered furniture. Aluminum foil now appears in kitchens in every corner of the world.
Aluminum has also been featured prominently in the design of automobiles, trains, boats and airplanes. Body parts, engines and wheels made of aluminum have allowed these modes of transport to reduce weight and save fuel, and the ease of casting and stamping of aluminum has allowed designers greater stylistic freedom. In 2015, Ford introduced its first aluminum bodied F-150 pickup, with unprecedented fuel economy.
It is in the aircraft industry where aluminum has perhaps made its biggest impact. There is hardly a commercial aircraft built today whose major components are not made of the strong, lightweight metal. The aluminum aircraft industry is worldwide and provides thousands of jobs in hundreds of communities. The production and use of aluminum has increased rapidly in the past few decades, and prospects for continued growth are as bright as the metal itself.
Aluminum aircraft were first produced in Germany during WWI, although aluminum components had already been used on a limited scale since the days of the Wright brothers. Structural components and sheathing made of aluminum were a huge improvement over wood and fabric in terms of strength, weight and flexibility of design. Aluminum aircraft also protected pilots better and withstood damage from bullets to a far greater degree than other materials, which was of supreme importance in military applications.
In its pure form, aluminum is not particularly well suited for structural components. It must be alloyed. Metallurgists, particularly in Russia, Germany and the United States, invested huge amounts of resources in finding an alloy that would give aluminum the strength and durability necessary. The Germans hit upon a successful formula first, in 1917, while it was not until about seven years later that the Soviets were able to produce a practical aluminum aircraft on their own, thanks largely in part to analysis done on a captured German airplane.
By WWII, aluminum was playing a large role in military and commercial aircraft. Not only fuselages and frames were made of aluminum alloys, but also engine components, propellers, rivets, fuel tanks, and bombs relied heavily on the use of aluminum. Today, 65 to 75 percent of most passenger airplanes’ weight is aluminum, and the metal is widely used in rockets and satellites. Advances in metallurgy have given aluminum alloys to have a wide array of characteristics, allowing them to be used in special applications requiring extremely high or low working temperatures, corrosion resistance, strength, and rigidity.
Aluminum Goes High Tech, and Alcoa Leads the Way
Anyone who remembers the scene from Star Trek IV where Scotty reveals the formula for transparent aluminum to an engineer from the 1980's will be happy to know that in 2015 researchers at the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) announced a breakthrough in the construction of spinel, also known as transparent aluminum. According to Dr. Jas Sanghera, who leads the research, “[Spinel is] a game-changing technology.” The breakthrough is that the lab has developed a process to make panels up to 30 inches instead of the 8 inch size currently possible. They have also learned how to form the material into shapes, instead of the small flat plates produced up until now.
The move into more advanced applications for aluminum has been led by Alcoa. Alcoa was one of the first aluminum companies, founded 125 years ago, and now employs about 59,000 people in over 30 countries. Using advanced technology in metals, engineering and manufacturing, Alcoa creates solutions for transportation, consumer goods, construction, power generation, and food and beverage packaging. Not only has the company grown over the years, but it has also diversified, not only in the materials it produces such as titanium, magnesium and nickel, but also in value added products not generally associated with a mining and smelting company. According to CEO Klaus Kleinfeld, Alcoa is “building up our value-add businesses. We are growing it. It now makes up 57 percent of our revenues and 80 percent of our segment profits, and that's what we're going after." It was Alcoa, for instance, which provided the aluminum parts for the new F-150's early test models.
Alcoa Power and Propulsion, a major business unit of Alcoa Inc. is a global leader in superalloy airfoil and titanium and aluminum structural investment castings. Serving the aerospace, defense, energy and industrial markets, its products are primarily used in jet engines and industrial gas turbines. Additional value-added products and services include hot isostatic pressing, specialty coatings, research and development, supply chain management, specialty tools, molds, and machinery. With 25 production facilities, Alcoa Power and Propulsion employs more than 9,000 people worldwide.
Alcoa Howmet, Leaders in Aerospace Component Manufacturing
Alcoa Howmet is a part of the Alcoa Power and Propulsion group. It is a French facility that has been in continuous operation since WWII, and makes castings for aircraft and gas turbines. They specialize in aircraft and industrial gas turbine castings up to 900 mm (35 in) diameter in size with a cluster weight up to 70 kg (155 lb), and also in setting intricate and sophisticated parts in medium series, such as blades and vanes. Their modern casting and manufacturing facility uses a wide variety of alloys, including proprietary alloys, steel and stainless steel, cobalt, and nickel based alloys. There is design staff and a full metallurgical lab on site, and Alcoa Howmet engineers stand ready to help clients with all of their design and production needs.
Providing parts for aircraft, racecars, and other turbine applications is a competitive business, with clients who demand the highest standards in quality, precision and on time delivery. Aircraft manufacturing is one of the most quality and safety driven industries in the world, and Alcoa Howmet delivers, with an obsessive drive to produce innovation and excellence every day.
Responsible Corporate Citizenship is Part of the Formula
Alcoa is also a world leader in sustainable business practices. Some highlights from 2014 include a reduction in greenhouse emissions by 3 million metric tons (per unit emissions have dropped more than 25% in the past ten years), inclusion in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices for the 13th consecutive year, and the investment of more than 38 million dollars in community programs, $170,000 of that contributed by Alcoa Howmet.
According to Kevin McKnight, Alcoa’s Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President of Environment, Health, and Safety, “We live our sustainability value every day….The people of Alcoa are dedicated not only to enhancing shareholder value, but also to advancing the world through Alcoa innovation, creativity, and passion.”
Alcoa Howmet, which now boasts a track record of 70 years providing innovated solutions in metals, proves every day that a successful company can balance high tech, quality, and responsible corporate citizenship while meeting the needs of some of the most demanding customers in the world.
Because of its commitment to continuous quality improvement, Alcoa Howmet has been selected to receive the BID International Star Award for Quality for 2015 at the convention in Geneva.
About BID and the International Star Award for Quality:
BID is a private and independent organization founded in 1984, whose primary activity is business communication orientated towards quality, excellence and innovation in management. A leader in the broadcasting of Quality Culture, BID recognizes those companies and organizations which lead the most important activities in the business world, and is considered the founding organization in the broadcasting of the Culture of Quality, Excellence and Innovation in 179 countries.
The trophy symbolizes a pledge to the principles of Quality Culture. The QC100 Total Quality Management Model, together with the Quality Mix program, media coverage of the convention and its impact on the community and business sector, create an unmatched platform for continuous improvement within the organization and awareness of the achievements of the company at an international level.
Awards are given only to those who are committed to improving their Quality Culture based on the principles of the QC100 Total Quality Management Model. Candidates are proposed by the leaders of previously awarded companies who they consider worthy of the award. Especially meritorious candidates may also be nominated. The International BID Quality Award Selection Committee then chooses the winning companies who will receive the award in New York, Paris, Geneva, Frankfurt, Madrid and London.