On 20 June, Alcoa Inc (NYSE:AA), the aluminum biggie announced that expansion of aluminum lithium-alloy production capacity at the company’s Kitts Green plant in the United Kingdom, is now complete. This expansion has been undertaken to meet the increasing demand for aluminum lithium alloys. AA expects that over the next 6 years, revenue from aluminum lithium will increase four-fold. This expansion which is in phase II of the three-phase expansion, allows air-framers to build low-cost, fuel-efficient airplanes in comparison to composite alternatives. The company said that this expansion will permit it to provide for the increasing demand for its 3rd generation aluminum-lithium alloys, in a better way.
AA says that the new alloys provide outstanding performance as far as factors such as damage tolerance, stiffness and corrosion-resistance are concerned. At the Paris Air Show, all the benefits of the 3rd generation aluminum alloys were on display. It is possible to reduce inspection intervals, increase fuel-efficiency, improve passenger comfort as well as reduce capital costs for manufacturers in the aerospace industry. Alcoa has expanded three aluminum operations across the world.
The Aluminum Lithium alloy story
These alloys have been developed specifically to reduce aircraft and aerospace structures’ weight. In more recent years, their potential use in cryogenic applications has also been studied. The major development work commenced in 1970-1980. This was when aluminum producers spurred aluminum-lithium alloys development, as replacements for traditional airframe alloys. The lower-density of these alloys was expected to bring-down the weight as well as improve aircraft performance. Commercial aluminum-lithium alloys are considered to be advanced materials for aerospace technology especially due to their properties. High specific modulus, low density, and excellent cryogenic toughness and fatigue properties make these alloys excellent for use in aerospace technology.
Aluminum-lithium alloys have some disadvantages as well. They have reduced fracture toughness and reduced ductility in the short-transverse direction and also need cold work to reach peak properties. But these are mere hiccups that any new material has to face and modern technology will ensure that even those are sorted out to make this material a structurally stable and perfect one.