Lightweight metals leader Alcoa has announced a $190 million investment at its Davenport Works, IA, facility to expand its product offerings in the aerospace and industrial markets. Alcoa is installing manufacturing technology to enhance the performance of thick aluminum and aluminum-lithium plate in various applications, including wing ribs and fuselage frames.
The investment in the Davenport rolling mill is the installation of a new “very thick plate stretcher.” The stretching process reduces stress introduced into the plate as part of the manufacturing process, resulting in a part that can more easily be machined and processed. This advancement will enable Davenport Works to produce the largest high-strength monolithic wing ribs in the industry. For example, as composite wings get larger, one of the challenges is strength and stiffness, and the aluminum plate from this stretcher will enable Alcoa to make wing ribs to address that issue.
“This project is a key driver for our continued growth in the aerospace plate market,” said Mark Vrablec, president of Alcoa Aerospace Transportation & Industrial Products (ATI). “New airplane designs feature thicker aluminum wing ribs—especially important to reinforce composite wings—and these enhancements will be possible with Alcoa thick plate products. The capability will also benefit our industrial customers who make injection molded plastic parts for the automotive, transportation and consumer electronics industries.”
The addition will enable Alcoa to serve the existing plate market while also providing airframe builders with the ability to make large wing ribs, fuselage frames and bulkheads using Alcoa thick plate. In addition, aluminum plate can be used to make the molds for plastics manufacturing, displacing steel as the incumbent material because of better thermal conductivity. It can also be used on manufacturing chambers for the consumer electronics and semiconductor industries.
The investment is consistent with the company’s strategy to build out its value-add businesses to capture profitable growth. Construction on the project will begin in 2015, with first customer production expected to begin in 2017.