What is Aluminum?

Aluminum is a silvery-white metal, the thirteenth element in the periodic table. One interesting fact about aluminum is that it's the most abundant metal on Earth, forming more than 8% of the Earth's core mass. It's also the third most common chemical element on our planet following oxygen and silicon.

At the same time, pure aluminum does not occur in nature because it easily binds with other elements to form different compounds. Formally aluminum was made for the first time in 1824 and it took people another fifty years to figure out to produce it on an industrial scale.

The most common form of aluminum present in nature is aluminum sulfates. These are minerals that are a combination of two sulphuric acids: one based on an alkaline metal (lithium, sodium, potassium rubidium, or cesium) and one based on metal from the third group of the periodic table, majorly aluminum.

Aluminum sulfates are utilized to this day to clean water, for cooking, in medicine, in cosmetology, in the chemical industry, and other sectors. To state another factor, aluminum got its name from aluminum sulphates which in Latin were called alumen.

Why Aluminum is so versatile?

Light, durable, and functional: these are the major qualities that lead to aluminum being one of the vital engineering materials of our time. Aluminum is present in the homes we live in, in the automobiles we drive, in the trains and airplanes that take us across long distances, in the mobile phones and computers we use on a daily basis and on the shelves inside our fridges, and in modern interior designs.

Aluminum provides a rare combination of valuable properties. It is one of the lightest metals in the world: it's almost three times lighter as compared to iron. However, it's also very strong, extremely flexible, and corrosion resistant as its surface is always covered in an extremely thin and yet very strong layer of an oxide film. It doesn't magnetize, it's an awesome electricity conductor and can form alloys with practically all other metals.

Understanding Aluminum Alloys

Aluminum alloys are alloys in which aluminum (Al) is the metal which is present in predominance. The typical alloying elements are copper, magnesium, manganese, silicon, tin, and zinc. There are two major classifications, named as casting alloys and wrought alloys, both of which are further segmented into the categories heat-treatable and non-heat-treatable. Around 85% of aluminum is utilized for wrought products, for instance, a rolled plate, foils, and extrusions. Cast aluminum alloys yield cost-effective products because of the low melting point, although they generally have lower tensile strengths than wrought alloys. The most crucial cast aluminum alloy system is Al–Si, where the high levels of silicon (4.0–13%) contribute to give good casting characteristics. Aluminum alloys are substantially utilized in engineering structures and components where lightweight or corrosion resistance is the key requirement.

What is Aluminum Extrusion?

The use of aluminum extrusion in product design and manufacturing has amplified substantially in recent decades. Aluminum extrusion is a process by which aluminum alloy material is pushed through a die that has a specific cross-sectional profile. A powerful ram forces the aluminum through the die and it comes out from the die opening. When it does, it comes out in the same shape as the die and is pulled out along a runout table. At a basic level, the process of aluminum extrusion is relatively easy to understand. The force applied can be compared to the force you apply when squeezing a tube of toothpaste with your fingers. As you squeeze, the toothpaste emerges in the shape similar to the tube’s opening.

There are three major categories of extruded shapes:

  1. Solid, with no enclosed voids or openings (i.e. a rod, beam, or angle).
  2. Hollow, with one or more voids (i.e. square or rectangular tube).
  3. Semi-hollow, with a partially enclosed void (i.e. a “C” channel with a narrow gap)

Extrusions have various applications across many different industries, consisting of architectural, automotive, electronics, aerospace, energy, and other industries.

Steps in an Extrusion Process

  • The Extrusion Die is Prepared and Moved to the Extrusion Press

First, a round-shaped die is made from H13 steel. If one is already available, it is fetched from a warehouse. Before performing extrusion, the die must be preheated to between 450-500 degrees Celsius to help maximize its life and make sure even metal flow happens. Once the die has been preheated, it is loaded into the extrusion press.

  • An Aluminum Billet is Preheated before Extrusion

After the first process, a solid, cylindrical block of aluminum alloy, called a billet, is cut from a long log of alloy material. It is also preheated in an oven, to between 400-500 degrees Celsius. This makes it malleable enough for the extrusion process but does not melt it.

  • The Billet is Transferred to the Extrusion Press

Once the billet has been preheated, it is taken mechanically to the extrusion press. Before it is loaded onto the press, a lubricant (or release agent) is applied to it. The release agent is also applied to the extrusion ram, to avoid the billet and ram from sticking together.

  • The Ram Pushes the Billet Material into the Container

Now, the malleable billet is loaded into the extrusion press, where the hydraulic ram applies up to 15,000 tons of pressure to it. As the ram puts pressure, the billet material is pushed into the container of the extrusion press. The material widens to fill the walls of the container.

  • The Extruded Material Emerges Through the Die

As the alloy material encapsulates the container, it is now being pressed up against the extrusion die. With persistent pressure being applied to it, the aluminum material has nowhere to pass except out through the opening(s) in the die. It comes out from the die’s opening in the shape of a fully-formed profile.

  • Extrusions are Guided along with the Runout Table and Quenched

After emerging, the extrusion is held by a puller, which guides it along with the runout table at a speed that is in sync with its exit from the press. As it moves along the runout table, the profile is “quenched,” or evenly cooled by a water bath or by fans above the table.

  • Extrusions are Sheared to Table Length

Once an extrusion covers its full table length, it is sheared by a hot saw to remove it from the extrusion process. At every step of the process, the temperature is a crucial aspect. However, the extrusion was quenched after exiting the press; it still doesn’t cool down completely.

  • Extrusions are Cooled to Room Temperature

After shearing, table-length extrusions are mechanically taken from the runout table to a cooling table. The profiles are kept there until they reach room temperature. Once they do, they are required to be stretched.

  • Extrusions are Moved to the Stretcher and Stretched into Alignment

Some natural twisting might take place in the profiles and it is required to be corrected. To correct this, they are moved to a stretcher. Each profile is mechanically gripped on both ends and pulled until it is fully straight and has been brought into the specification.

  • Extrusions are Moved to the Finish Saw and Cut to Length

With the table-length extrusions now straight and fully work-hardened, they are transferred to the saw table. Here, they are sawed to pre-specified lengths, generally between 8 and 21 feet long. At this point, the properties of the extrusions match the T4 temper. After sawing, they can be taken to an aging oven to be aged to the T5 or T6 temper.

  • Finishing Processes

After the completion of the extrusion process, profiles can be heat treated to improve their properties. Then, after heat treatment, they can receive several surface finishes to enhance their appearance and corrosion protection. They can also undergo fabrication operations to bring them to their final dimensions.

Scenario for Global Aluminum Alloy Extrusion Profile Market

According to a detailed report published by Growth Market Reports, The Global Aluminum Alloy Extrusion Profile Market was valued at around USD 14.2 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 19.2 billion by 2027, expanding at a CAGR of 4.8% during the forecast period (2020-2027).

The market is driven by factors such as surging construction of green buildings, increasing utilization of aluminum as the replacement for steel, swift urbanization and industrialization bolsters the market growth and growing use of sustainable and recyclable metal.

However, high costs of aluminum alloy extrusion, the low production efficiency of the conventional extrusion method, and rising energy cost and environmental pollution are key restraints of this market. Growing usage of aluminum alloy extruded profile in the automotive industry and rising use of aluminum alloy extrusion profile in solar panels are anticipated to boost the market in the future.

Latest Market Trends

Rising urbanization and surging demand for pre-engineered buildings are propelling the aluminum alloy extrusion profile market. These profiles are utilized in the roofing of pre-engineered buildings. Pre-engineered buildings are prefabricated factory-built steel structures engineered that are taken to the construction site for assembly. The growing construction of warehouses because of the surging online retail industry has boosted the demand for pre-engineered buildings. The growth of industries such as pharma, retail, automotive, logistics, and fast-moving consumer goods is amplifying the demand for pre-engineered buildings. This, in turn, is anticipated to bolster the demand for aluminum alloy extruded profiles.

Market Segment Analysis

Based on type, the market is segmented into Forward Extrusion, Backward Extrusion, Composite Extrusion, and Others. Forward extrusion is also known as direct extrusion or in-line compounding; it is majorly utilized in the production of semi-finished products such as profiles, plates, films, and tubes. This type of extrusion occurs when the direction of the flow of metal is the same as the movement of the ram. Direct extrusion is one of the most common processes that are utilized in aluminum alloy extrusion profiles among all the extrusion processes. In this process, a metal billet (work-piece) is pressed in the same direction as the die orifice and the force is applied on the billet. The main benefit of this process is the high efficiency that comes with it and the total time duration of extruders, as most of the time, they are limited by the thickness of the metal billet. One of the major drawbacks of the forward extrusion is that it requires a high amount of force to extrude billet. The force which is used in forward extraction is very high compared to the indirect extrusion due to which high frictional forces are developed by the movement of billet across the entire length of containers.

In terms of applications the market is divided into, Automotive, Construction, Manufacturing, and Others. The automotive segment is projected to grow at a swift pace during the forecast period because of the rising demand for automobiles and the requirement for electronic vehicles. Utilizing aluminum extrusions enables automobile manufacturers to use different profile geometries and aluminum alloys to maximize light-weighting and to manage certain applications in the crucial aspect of energy absorption and crash-management requirements. Moreover, aluminum alloy extrusions have a distinct ability of cost-effectiveness which is supporting automobile makers to meet the strict 2025 fuel economy and emissions targets as compared to other materials. Aluminum alloy extrusions also provide solutions that amplify vehicle safety as verified by several vehicles in production. Hence, manufacturers are utilizing aluminum alloy extrusions as they offer high-yield strength, excellent crash performance, and reduced weight. These factors are propelling the growth of the segment.

Regional Analysis of the Market

On the basis of regions, the Global Aluminum Alloy Extrusion Profile Market has been fabricated into North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, and South America. Asia Pacific is anticipated to hold 41.8% of the market share because of a surge in the construction sector in this region. The construction of green buildings is growing across the globe, as these buildings are environment-friendly and save energy. This, in turn, is bolstering the market growth, as aluminum alloy extruded profile is utilized in the construction of green buildings. The market in Europe is also projected to flourish during the forecast period attributing to the surging industrial consumption of extruded aluminum and the growth in the automobile industry. Moreover, the growing demand for products in the battery casing and structural component of electrical vehicles is anticipated to fuel the market.

Competitive Scenario of the Market

Prominent players in the global aluminum alloy extrusion profile market include Arconic, China Zhongwang Holdings Limited, Hindalco Industries, Hydro Extrusions, Jindal Aluminum, Kaiser Aluminum, Sankyo Tateyama, Inc., and Constellium. These companies are considered as key manufacturers of aluminum alloy extrusion profiles, due to their revenue, research & development activities, regional presence, and effective supply chain management system. The players are adopting key strategies such as acquisition, and geographical expansion where the potential opportunity for the aluminum alloy extrusion profile extraction is added in the company’s capacity.

  • In April 2020, the Arconic Inc. divided into two standalone companies, Arconic and Howmet Aerospace Inc. – Howmet Aerospace Inc. is anticipated to manufacture parts of the engine, fastening mechanisms, engineered structures, and aluminum forged wheels; whereas, Arconic generates rolled aluminum products, extrusions for aluminum, and systems for building and manufacturing.
  • For example, in February 2019, Arconic declared that it invested about USD 100 million in its Tennessee operations facility near Knoxville, Tennessee, the US, to widen its hot-mill capacity and add downstream equipment capabilities to manufacture industrial and automotive aluminum products.
  • In April 2017, Jindal Aluminum has amplified its capacity for the generation to 80 MW and has further investments in this sector. It makes captive use of 30% of the energy of its wind and solar power units and sells the rest to the state.