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General Cable targets more aluminum use in wire sector

Keywords: Tags  General Cable, Christel Hunter, power transmission, utilities, industrial, commerical, residential, construction copper

ISLES OF PALMS, S.C — General Cable Corp. is looking to boost aluminum’s presence in the wire and cable markets and sees increasing success in the power transmission sector, a company executive said.

"We think we are getting close to the tipping point. We are coming to that critical point where the industry is going to use aluminum to design projects and not just as a substitution," Christel Hunter, the Highland Heights, Ky., wire and cable company’s director of engineering, procurement and construction, said April 9 at the Aluminum Association’s 2013 spring meeting.

Certain segments of the transmission market are already almost "fully converted," with utilities, for example, expecting to be provided with an aluminum product, she said. In addition, more aluminum is being used due to metal-clad cables, which bolsters the amount of aluminum consumed in finished products.

But growth is also coming from the industrial and commercial sectors, and to a lesser extent from the residential construction market, Hunter said. Some of the growth is concentrated in smaller applications such as electrical systems for ovens, but large-service feeds for multifamily residences are also using more aluminum, she said.

"When I started with Alcan feeder penetration was 8 percent, now it’s 30 to 35 percent," Hunter said. "I’d like to think it’s all me. ... But I suspect the price of copper might have a little bit to do with that."

General Cable in 2012 closed its $151-million cash purchase of Alcan Cable’s North American operations from Rio Tinto Plc (, Sept. 5).

An aluminum power transmission system can cost half as much as a copper power system, and that’s "being very conservative," she said.

Aluminum had trouble competing with copper in the 1960s and 1970s, but those problems have been addressed, Hunter said. "Our systems are just as reliable as anything you can do with copper," she said. "That’s part of the reason we have seen the increase in demand from the market."

Other growth areas for General Cable come from alternative energy technologies, such as solar power generating projects. And applications for the company’s products look set to continue to grow, she said.

"Designers move around. ... If we have a designer in alternative energy who moves into an engineering firm that’s doing stadiums and multifamily residences, they have that (aluminum) experience to take with them," Hunter said. "Every time we convert a market, we add a little bit of strength to our position. It adds to the acceptability of the product in the markets we haven’t converted yet."

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