Boeing’s game-changing move is just the beginning

Jul 30, 2008 | 01:29 PM |

Reports of aluminum heat-treat plate's demise in the aerospace industry have been greatly exaggerated, analysts say, despite the persistent onslaught of headlines about the impending switch to carbon fiber composites.

Despite the encroachment of lightweight composites, aerospace aluminum plate demand will register a 40-percent increase over the next four years, peaking at slightly less than 700 million pounds annually vs. 500 million pounds currently, according to Kevin Michaels, principal and co-founder of AeroStrategy LLC, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Michaels said he completely understands why there is a perception among the public that composites will soon eliminate the need for aluminum plate, but there isn't really any data to support that outlook. That's why AeroStrategy embarked on a wide, sweeping raw materials market assessment study over the past year. "We were frustrated by analysis by antidote, where someone would throw out that the (Boeing Co.) 787 is 52-percent composite so aluminum must be dead," he said. "We found out that just isn't true. People are still going to be making planes that have a very high aluminum content."

But there are some dark clouds on the horizon. According to the AeroStrategy study, the aluminum aerospace market will start to edge lower in 2012. "That will happen because of a combination of the anticipated downturn in deliveries as well as full production rates (being achieved) for higher composite-content aircraft," Michaels said. "But the interesting finding is that even with that, aluminum demand in 2015 is (expected to be) higher than it is today."....

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