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William Hamilton cartoon from The New Yorker, July 11, 1977. Used with permission

William Hamilton cartoon from The New Yorker, July 11, 1977. Used with permission

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Historians often use a three-point approach to the world:

  1. Where are we now?

  2. Where have we been? And, based on the first two,

  3. Where are we going?

As to the first question, the intent for this book is to explain aluminum’s unique position in the world of structural materials in the 21st century. How does metal get from the mine into an airplane, a can, or a car? Why is it used, and which applications enjoy the economic and performance advantages compared with other materials? This book will describe the alloys, processing steps, and applications for a wide range of cast and wrought products.

Relative to the second point, this is not intended as a history book, but it will define the key developments that have shaped the industry since its inception in 1886: electrification, world wars, changes in transportation, an oil embargo, and so on. It will also describe some iconic products that represent aluminum in our society—in transportation, packaging, architecture, and industrial applications—and some unique characters that shaped the industry. The hope is that readers will come away thinking, “Oh, I didn’t know that.”

This book tells the story from the perspectives of aluminum insiders, who were taught to focus on key customer needs and engineer aluminum alloy products to meet them. Over nearly 40 years, the authors worked through the development of the aluminum can industry, several generations of aerospace alloys, the growth of aluminum heat exchangers, and automotive projects with Audi, Mercedes, Jaguar and Ford. These collaborations taught us that the partnership between research and development, manufacturing, and end customers is key to moving the industry forward.

As recently as the 1990s, the industry was dominated by vertically integrated monolithic companies that took the metal from the mine to the consumer. At the time this book is published, the industry is largely split between upstream and downstream: large mining companies produce the metal, whereas product-focused companies deliver cast or wrought products to customers. The industry today bears little resemblance to that in which the authors began their careers. This book documents these changes and discusses some of the effects this realignment has had on the future direction of the aluminum industry.

Given the reality of climate change and the increasing importance of sustainability, where does aluminum fit in our future? Aluminum applications have demonstrated huge benefits for reducing emissions and saving energy through lightweighting. Yet primary aluminum production is recognized as a significant emitter of CO2. Recycling is a key advantage for aluminum compared with competitive materials, but despite excellent industry examples for many years, there are not always incentives for governments, industry, and consumers to cooperate toward a common goal of maximizing the use of a precious, energy-intensive resource.

With apologies to the many colleagues who advanced the science of aluminum metallurgy, this text is intended for an audience with a basic understanding of chemistry and physics but no advanced metallurgical training. It will not rely on phase diagrams, dislocations, and Euler angles, but on analogies to concepts and products familiar in everyday life.

For more detailed treatments of microstructure/property relationships, readers are referred to:

A series of technical lectures produced by the European Aluminum Association (TALAT) is available online:

For industry and corporate histories, see:

  • Alcoa, An American Enterprise (Charles Carr, 1952)

  • The Immortal Woodshed (Junius Edwards, 1955)

  • Global Mission: The Story of Alcan, Vols I, II, and III (Duncan Campbell, 1985)

  • From Monopoly to Competition: The Transformation of Alcoa, 1888−1986 (George Smith, 1988)

  • R&D for Industry: A Century of Technical Innovation at Alcoa (Margaret Graham and Bettye Pruitt, 1990)

  • From Dawn to Dusk: Alusuisse, Swiss Aluminium Pioneer from 1930–2010 (Adrian Knoepfli, 2010)

Other recent references that may be of interest are:

  • Aluminum in America: A History (Quentin Skrabec, 2017)

  • Aluminum Dreams (Mimi Sheller, 2014)

  • Aluminum Surfaces (L.W. Zahner, 2020)

The authors dedicate this book to the giants whose shoulders we stand on, our mentors, who taught us the importance of applying basic principles to solve problems, and to our colleagues, whose collaboration made everything possible.

We want to especially thank the Novelis Global Technical Center for support with graphics and library resources. And to our editor, Steve Lampman and production manager, Madrid Tramble of ASM, a heartfelt appreciation for their patience and guidance in the course of our journey.

John Adams The Cansultants 15 Can Making 
Kevin Anderson Mercury Marine 5, 14 Shape Castings, Marine 
Jan Backlund Hydro Aluminium (EU) 13, 14 Extrusion, FSW 
Simon Barker Novelis, Inc. (Spokane, Washington) Casting 
Stephen Baumann Alcoa, Inc., retired 17 Heat Exchangers 
Randy Bell Novelis, Inc. (Kennesaw, Georgia) All Library and Web Search 
Dan Boley Scot Forge Company, retired Forging, Aerospace 
Scott Breen Can Manufacturers 20 Can Recycling 
Jim Brock Alcoa, Inc., retired Ingot Casting 
Michael Bull Novelis, Inc., retired 12 Light Vehicles 
Laurent Chappuis Light Metals Consultants 12 Light Vehicles 
David DeYoung DeYoung Materials Solutions, LLC 2, 20 Primary Production 
Brian Edwards Arconic (Massena, New York) 7, 10 Wire, Rod, Bar 
Dave Farnsworth Farnsworth Marketing 17 Consumer Electronics 
Kevin Gatenby Novelis, Inc., retired 4, 15 Continuous Casting 
Juergen Hirsch Hydro Aluminium (EU), retired 6, 15 Rolling, Can Making 
Phil Hollinshead Alcoa, Inc., retired 6, 15 Food Can and Ends 
Nic Kamp Novelis, Inc. (EU) 6, 15 Cans and Foil Packaging 
DaeHoon Kang Novelis, Inc. (Kennesaw, Georgia) 6, 15 Aluminum Cans 
Kerry Kubena Arconic (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) 13, 17 Rolled Products 
Jake Lah DAC Aluminum (Korea) 19 Camping, Recreation 
Justin Lamb Universal Alloy Corp 7, 11 Hard Alloy Extrusion 
Tim Langan Sunrise Energy Metals 11, 14 Aerospace, Marine 
Vicente Martin Innoval Technology, Ltd. (U.K.) 4, 6, 15 Thin Foil Production 
Rob Pahl Alcoa, Inc., retired 7, 11, 19 Hard Alloy Extrusion 
Carmo Perella Matalco, Inc. 4, 7, 20 Ingot, Extrusion 
Bob Ramage Hydro Aluminum (U.S.) Soft Alloy Extrusion 
Martin Reeves Fon Seca Castings, Inc. Shape Castings 
Steve Rennekamp Alcoa, Inc., retired 15 Foil Food Containers 
Geoff Sigworth GKS Engineering 4, 5, 12 Shape Casting 
Eider Simielli Novelis, Inc. (Atlanta, Georgia) 4, 6, 15 Continuous Casting, Foil 
Frank Swigon Alcoa, Inc., retired 4, 15 Foil, Continuous Casting 
Wojtek Szczypiorski Hazelett, Inc., retired Continuous Casting 
Iris Tiberio Irial Aluminium (Italy) 17 Interior Design, Art 
D.V. Timms Fairfield Electric Coop, retired 18 Electrical Infrastructure 
Sam Wagstaff Oculatus Consulting (U.S.) 2, 4, 20 Recycling, Direct Chill Casting 
Charles Weber SC Railroad Museum 18 Railroad Infrastructure 
Andre Wilson Scot Forge Company 8, 11 Forging, Aerospace 
Tom Wood Michigan Tech 4, 7 Wire Production 

The cover photograph depicts an aluminum mosaic created by IRIAL Art of Noventa di Piave (Venice), Italy. The creators design and produce aluminum surfaces whose colors and textures combine to create unique images for art and architecture. The lightweight mosaics, tiles, and panels have been used to enhance stores, homes, offices, hotels, and cruise ships.

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