Carmakers are gravitating to aluminum as their metal of choice. A recent post on CarTalk.com makes this point: "Aluminum is the number one metal for making engines and wheels, and it's showing up all over for hoods, trunks, and doors."
The auto industry is moving to aluminum to shed fuel-wasting weight. Of course, you engineering folks have a fancy word for losing weight that's not body fat -- lightweighting.
According to The New York Times, the shift to aluminum is gaining momentum and the demand from automakers for aluminum is soaring, "expecting to reach one billion pounds this year, up from 200 million in 2012, and to grow by more than 30% annually through 2020." The heavier the truck, the more lightweighting that can be achieved with the switch to aluminum. Not surprisingly, Ford announced in January that it would make the body of its new F-150 primarily out of aluminum. As a result, steelmakers face an uncertain future.
Needs for lightweighting are going beyond the auto industry. The federal government is kick-starting a public-private collaborative initiative called the Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation Institute (LM3). Design News’ Ann Thryft wrote last year that LM3 will focus on materials that "provide a high strength-weight ratio to help reduce energy consumption and improve performance."
Another example: 20% of the world’s aluminum is used in the construction sector. Its light weight means that the load on the bearing structure is less, and its strength makes it suitable for a variety of solutions. Its resistance to corrosion gives it special advantages; aluminum is perfect for regions with severe weather conditions. Also, its fluidity gives freedom to architects and designers.
Docks and other marine structures are also beneficiaries of the features of aluminum. It won’t crack like concrete, rust like steel, or rot like wood, so maintenance budgets for the long life span of an aluminum dock are reduced, and in many cases, eliminated.
Contrary to some myths, salt water does not corrode aluminum. In fact, aluminum creates its own special armor when introduced into the environment. This naturally occurring aluminum oxide film creates a protective layer, and this layer is magically regenerated if it’s scratched off. This corrosion-shield prevents depredation from the sun, salt, fuels, and water, basically the reasons why other materials deteriorate.
Even fresh water folks can appreciate the benefits of aluminum. Aluminum is cool -- literally -- as in cold to the touch. Leave concrete, pavers, composite deck, wood deck of any color out in the sun on a hot afternoon and an aluminum deck will always register much lower on the heat gun. When you’re trying to enjoy a sunny summer day on the water, running barefoot on the dock, or hopping onto your pontoon boat, the last thing you want is to invest in a dock that makes you want off of it.
The most surprising fact of all? Pound for pound, aluminum is stronger than steel.
Danielle Walter is the director of marketing at Crane Materials International (CMI) a material fabricator and manufacturer in the building products industry. With a passion for all things aluminum, she advocates for the GatorDock and GatorBridge brands (custom designed and fabricated aluminum structures).