Volume 40,   Issue 5                                 May  2005

Aluminum, Sustainability!

The Aluminum Association's Spring Meeting Captures Many Events

by Alan B. Goldberg

The spring meeting of the Aluminum Association, which took place March 7-8, 2005, at Chicago’s McCormick Place and the Intercontinental Chicago, coincided with a number of events. Aluminum USA was one of eight industry trade shows to participate in National Manufacturing Week. The four-day event, also held at McCormick Place, opened on March 7. 

More than 1,000 exhibitors participated in National Manufacturing Week, which offered 300 conference sessions, including a series on the use and popularity of aluminum in its key markets. Using the theme, “Think Aluminum, Think Sustainability,” an Aluminum Innovation Center showcased innovative aluminum products in building and construction, transportation and packaging.

Opportunities and Challenges
The keynote speaker for National Manufacturing Week, Alcoa chairperson and chief executive officer Alain Belda, pointed out opportunities and challenges for global manufacturers in what he referred to as the BRICK countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and Korea.

“My proposition is that we are in the midst of a market transformation and growth similar to the one experienced in the 1950s,” Belda said. This transformation, he explained, is good news. 

“The bad news is that rather than happening in your backyard, it is happening in the BRICK countries.”

He explained that although the world is smaller, competition will make these opportunities more challenging.

Belda said there are two revolutions happening at the same time driving this transformation:

• Urbanization in the BRICK countries that will consume an enormous amount of resources, impact the environment and create another Western world in terms of population with per capita income in excess of $20,000; and 

• Labor and resource arbitrage that will create a new set of competitive dynamics.

“It will affect your company and my company in many ways. We must compete against cheap imports, deal with our legacy costs (health care, environment legacies, labor costs) facility closings and relocation costs. We must follow our customers in the regions where they grow. We must be a part of and take advantage of the market created by these urbanizing countries and then deal with the consequences on our existing businesses, people and vocations,” Belda said.

He pointed out that, in the BRICK countries, the issues will be about infrastructure building, consumer awakening, transportation, energy, communications and long runs of simpler products or commodities. Initially, it will be manufacturing-dominated, but progress will be fast. 

“These countries will be coming after many of the products, processes and technologies that will be in the West. They will also leapfrog to the latest products, latest applications and the latest manufacturing processes.”

Aluminum Fenestration For Building Envelopes 
A number of other presentations also took place during the meeting. A seminar titled “The use of aluminum with a structural thermal barrier as the material of choice for fenestration worldwide,” was presented by Patrick Muessig, technical services manager for Azon USA Inc. of Kalamazoo, Mich. Muessig said the theme in construction is conservation in all forms and that a return to aluminum products is somewhat of a historical revolution.

“Extruded aluminum is one of the highest consumers of energy during its manufacturing process, of all building materials currently utilized. However its end use, in every market it serves, results in the most energy-efficient, green products available.” 

He said the use of aluminum in windows, doors, storefronts, skylights and curtainwalls is the main component for all building envelopes and facades. 

Describing the benefits of aluminum, he emphasized strength and durability. “Aluminum has one of the highest strength-to-weight ratios of all materials used in the industry.” 

He said it is at least seven times more rigid than wood and 23 times more rigid than vinyl. To put it another way, he described aluminum as exceeding “other materials in its ability to withstand windloads under highrise edifice applications or in regions prone to hurricanes and typhoons.” 

Comparing the stability of aluminum to other materials, he said it is immune to climatic effects, unlike wood and other organic materials that require impregnation and coating to resist degradation. Under stress and subjected to changes in climate, wood and wood composites can be twisted, warped and can change dimensions. 

Because vinyl or polyvinyl chloride is a blend of chemicals, they both require plasticizers, coloring agents and lubricants. Aluminum, he pointed out, maintains its extruded form and rigidity, which prevents frame deformation caused by building movement, climate changes or weathering over a period of time. The result is that windows and doors remain operable and reliable throughout the life of a building.

Muessig explained that aluminum offers unlimited possibilities in design because it can be extruded in any shape specified.

“It is limited only by the imagination of the designer.”

He said window shapes can be extruded to duplicate any design or a new idea, including narrow sight lines and large openings that do not require special reinforcements or unsightly structural supports.

“Aluminum is able to support large lites that allow the architect to bring the outdoors in and offer dramatic views from both interior and exterior motifs.”

Its structural strength is a significant benefit with respect to the latest building codes.

“The structural characteristics of aluminum make it the only feasible material to meet and exceed new building codes requiring safety and security.”

He pointed out that today’s codes require windows and doors that offer blast, hurricane and intrusion protection.

“Aluminum, by its very nature, has the impact and deflection capabilities to withstand these rigorous tests and still offer beauty and comfort. It also  has the ability to offer security from forced entry that other materials cannot offer (to the same extent).”

He referred to one of aluminum’s most attractive characteristics.

“Aluminum is one of the most recycled materials in use today. When it is recycled and reproduced, it returns to its original state with all properties, as originally produced, in tact.”

Specifying Aluminum In Chicago’s New Towers 
The use of aluminum in construction was reinforced by Steven Nilles, a principal of the Lohan Carile Goettsch Architects in Chicago, who discussed two of his firm’s downtown projects: the UBS Tower and 111 South Wacker. Nilles pointed out that the two buildings used a total of 2.2 million pounds of aluminum.

The UBS Tower, a speculative building, was built in 24 months. He described the extensive testing that took place prior to construction. In this case, it involved extrusions and cladding among other materials that could impact the entire building. Almost everything is aluminum—extrusions, panels, cladding with glass. 

Even the elevator cabs, where weight and speed were factors, made use of aluminum. For example, glass and aluminum plates and aluminum profiles were used in the platforms. He said there is a trend to metal panels from stone clad to reduce weight. 

He also referred to sustainable design and the LEED certification process as a most meaningful trend (see the February 2005 USGlass, page 60 for related article). A voluntary program, he described LEED as a methodology to design and operate buildings that take sustainability issues into consideration. As more options are introduced, buildings are being recognized with certifications to show they are sustainable operations. 

Nilles said the 111 South Wacker building will become the first speculative tower to be LEED-certified in the United States. He explained that tenants are becoming more aware of sustainability and are requesting LEED certification. Like the UBS Tower, 111 South Wacker makes use of aluminum throughout. The lobby is clad, and marble and granite is surrounded by a core of extruded aluminum grid.

Lean Manufacturing
A series of sessions on lean manufacturing was led by Thomas Davis, manager of quality assurance for Trilogy Plastics. He contrasted current methodology to the traditional manufacturing methods of the 1970s and 1980s when bigger was better. He said today there are work cells, or a collection of processes, all related to a single product. 

“Something goes in and comes out as a finished product. That is the basis for lean manufacturing,” he said.

He referred to the building blocks for a lean organization as being mostly common sense things in the workplace that are largely ignored. He explained the concept of “value-stream mapping” as a problem solving, value-assessment technique that is also used to eliminate non-value steps. He emphasized that the concept of “lean” goes beyond production.

“Don’t just look at manufacturing. Look at office processes, transportation, every operation within the organization.” 

The spring meeting of the Aluminum Association gave its members an excellent opportunity to see the latest innovations in aluminum and see how it remains a preferred material in its key markets. 

Alan B. Goldberg is a contributing writer for USGlass magazine. He has more than 30 years of experience in the insulating glass industry.

Recognition For Creativity
National Manufacturing Week was an opportune time for the Extrusion Technology for Aluminum Profiles Foundation to announce the winning entries of its International Aluminum Extrusion Design Competition. According to Gregory Rajsky, executive director, 99 entries were received and 76 of them came from students studying design and engineering at colleges and universities around the world. Judges were recruited from the aluminum extrusion industry, academia and the trade press. 

In its official announcement, the foundation said, “the Aluminum Extrusion Design Competition serves to promote greater understanding and use of extruded aluminum profiles, as well as to highlight innovations and recognize excellence in aluminum extrusion design. Winning entries were those that best demonstrated extruded aluminum’s inherent attributes, including the effective use of close-tolerance or complex profiles, extrusion process improvement, innovation in design and/or likelihood of market success.

Among the winners were: Randall Kearns of Hydro Aluminum for a vertical windmill; Todd Kollar of General Extrusions for a heat sink used in a touch-screen kiosk; Glenn A. Reynolds, V. Gary Curtis and Dean Hackbarth of Gossamear Space Frames Inc, and Alfonso Feria and Asim Sehic of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a non-welded, non-bolted mechanical attachment used to rigidly join multiple, round tubular elements to a node in a structure; Jon Bricker, Purdue University Exhibit Center, for an extruded joint construction device used to manufacture knock-down furniture; and John Dutton, a student at Purdue University for a retractable motorcycle seat.

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