OSWEGO, NY – Novelis cements its claim as the world’s No.1 producer of sheet aluminum for the auto industry by launching this week a third line spinning coils for Ford F-Series pickup trucks.
In December 2014, Novelis started two finishing lines for sheet aluminum supplied for the groundbreaking F-150, the first pickup with an aluminum-intensive body and cargo bed. Since then, those two lines here have been running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and most of the output has been for Ford.
This week a third finishing line, adjacent to the first two, opens in a new annex at the plant to supply Ford’s all-new ’17 Super Duty pickups. Including additional volume for the Super Duty, the plant will churn out up to 60 coils of finished aluminum daily.
Novelis President and CEO Steve Fisher thanks the 450 employees dedicated to Ford aluminum production, resulting in vehicles that are lighter and more fuel-efficient. Anticipated growth on the three lines is expected to add another 250 jobs here, the company says.
“Your dedication has built a world-class plant that delivers world-class aluminum to a world-class customer,” Fisher says to employees during the ceremony. “You are helping reshape the auto industry one coil at a time, and I thank you for that commitment.”
Depending on inventory of recycled and raw materials, it can take between a week and a month to produce a finished roll of automotive-grade aluminum, says Marco Palmieri, senior vice president and president of Novelis North America.
The process begins with aluminum scrap collected from Ford stamping plants in the U.S. In Buffalo, NY, near Ford’s stamping plant, the scrap is loaded into specially designed Penske Logistics trucks and driven here, where Novelis melts the scrap and additional alloys to produce massive aluminum ingot slabs, each weighing 35,000 lbs. (15,876 kg).
The ingot slabs are heated and rolled back and forth in a compression mill until it reaches a certain thickness and can be rolled into sheet.
But the process is far from complete at that point. Those coils then transfer to the finishing lines here for continuous annealing and solution heat treatment (CASH), which is necessary for the metal to achieve certain properties for strength, durability and formability.
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Each of the three CASH lines, including the new one opened here to supply the Super Duty, is a loop stretching 2,300 ft. (700 m) that heats, cools and cleans the aluminum before it is coiled one last time at sheet thicknesses ranging from 0.019 ins. to 0.19 ins. (0.5 mm-5 mm), Palmieri says.
The coils then are loaded into the Penske trucks, two at a time, for shipment to Ford stamping plants, where the material will be transformed into doors, hoods, cargo beds, roofs and tailgates for F-Series pickups.
Once those coils are offloaded, the Penske trucks are filled with scrap aluminum from Ford, to begin the process all over again.
Widespread use of aluminum has helped reduce curb weight of Ford pickups by some 350 lbs. (159 kg).
This plant produces more than 1 billion lbs. (454 million kg) of aluminum sheet each year, and a growing portion of the output has been destined for automotive customers, such as the new Cadillac CT6, which uses extensive amounts of aluminum from Novelis. All aluminum-intensive vehicles from Jaguar and Land Rover also use material from the supplier.
This latest finishing line cost Novelis $120 million, and the supplier has invested more than $500 million over the past five years to triple its capacity in anticipation of further aluminum growth in future vehicle programs, not only in the U.S. but also in Asia and Europe. Novelis has eight aluminum plants in North America.
A Ducker Research report suggests aluminum content in North American vehicles will climb from 390 lbs. (177 kg) today to 500 lbs. (227 kg) by 2025.
“Globally, we see a tremendous amount of growth through the end of this decade,” Fisher says. “We also recognize the evolution toward electric vehicles will accelerate this lightweighting trend as aluminum proves valuable in helping automakers extend battery life in order to extend the range of their vehicles. We are absolutely in it for the long haul.”
Fisher says Novelis is in talks with several automakers interested in producing aluminum-intensive vehicles. He declines to provide specifics but says Novelis will dedicate 25% of its capacity to automotive programs in the coming years, up from 15% by the end of 2016.