Roughly a year after Novelis Inc. introduced
its Fusion technology, the new process for simultaneously
casting multiple alloy layers into a single aluminum ingot is
The company doubled the number of customers
to more than 50 in North America and Europe from 25 at Fusion's
debut, according to Roland Harings, vice president of global
Fusion business and general manager of the company's Sierre,
Switzerland, facility, the second location to get Fusion
technology after Novelis' Oswego, N.Y., plant.
Some customers have more than one project in
development, giving Novelis more than 200 current Fusion
projects, Harings said. Some 75 of those projects are in North
America, according to Lloyd "Buddy" Stemple, vice president and
general manager of the company's North American Specialty
"It's really interesting how quickly Fusion
technology was appreciated in the marketplace," Harings said.
"The number of customers and products grew more quickly than we
"Some customers quickly see the advantages of
the new materials, sometimes more quickly than we do," Harings
said. "In the past, they have had to trade off properties for
performance. Now they have more options."
Typical applications in which Fusion is
already being used are in the automotive sector. Tube stock,
end plates, radiator caps, header plates and parts of
automotive heat exchangers have been made using Fusion alloys,
Stemple said. Such parts are being produced commercially and
have already made their way into the marketplace.
To date, Fusion technology has been used to
produce components to replace existing clad products. "Real
growth will come when we start to replace other than existing
clad products," Harings predicted. In North America, that will
happen this year; in Europe, the first Fusion product to
replace a non-clad product will debut in 2008.
The transportation market is one sector where
Novelis sees great potential for Fusion. "Anything that moves
can benefit from the combination of strength and friendly
surface properties enabled by Fusion," Harings said.
Fusion also might be suitable for the
construction market to make architectural panels for use in
Stemple said he sees opportunities to replace
stainless steel with Fusion alloys in some applications. "We
can create a high-strength material which is finish friendly,"
he said. "With the nickel surcharge at $2.20 per pound, we can
offer average per-part savings of 30 to 40 percent, and
sometimes as high as 50 percent."
Using a Fusion alloy also can achieve savings
by creating manufacturing efficiencies. "In many cases, we can
eliminate the use of another material or manufacturing step,"
A typical Fusion alloy is composed of a core
metal that defines the mechanical properties of the material,
such as formability and strength, and constitutes 80 or 90
percent of overall thickness. The outer layer, which can cover
one or both sides of the core material (accounting for 10 or 20
percent of the overall thickness) optimizes surface properties,
Harings explained. The surface layer can be chosen for specific
properties, including appearance, reflectability, corrosion
resistance or bonding ability.
Promoters of the process concede the number of customers
and products has grown faster than even they expected.
Novelis continues to experiment and develop new combinations of
alloys. Harings said that in these trials, sometimes the end
product yields more than the sum of the parts. "In some cases,
the Fusion bonding process itself enhances the properties of
the individual elements," he said. Some Fusion products have
displayed greater formability than their constituent parts, for
The company is considering increasing its
Fusion capacity to keep pace with growing demand. "At the
moment, we are looking at a number of opportunities to increase
capacity in the short term," Harings said. "I wouldn't exclude
another greenfield plant at this time, but retrofitting
existing facilities is less expensive and quicker."
Novelis has a number of facilities in Europe
that could be retrofitted. "You can count on it," Harings said
when asked if Novelis would proceed with such retrofits,
although no timetable or facility was specified.
In North America, there is still room to
expand Fusion capacity at Oswego.
Multi-casting technology also might benefit
from the presence of Alcoa Inc. whichhas developed its own
simultaneous multi-alloy casting technology, known as Smac. The
process has been in commercial production for quite some time,
according to a spokesman. "Smac is being used right now in a
variety of industrial uses," he said.
At Novelis, both Harings and Stemple have
been surprised by some of the interest shown in Fusion. "I
recently was approached by a casket manufacturer," Stemple
said. "I didn't have that particular application on my list."
For Harings, it was bathtubs, which he said are frequently made
from steel that has been painted or enameled. "I was unaware of
the material used there," he said. The bathtub application is