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Aluminum Plate and Sheet Materials

'Part of the Global Aluminum Metals Market'

Aluminum is one of the most abundant, used, and recycled metals in the world; it is light, strong, flexible, non-corrosive, and infinitely recyclable.  Aluminum is a worldwide commodity with different regions vying for its production, recycling, and consumption.  Though the U.S. demands nearly 10% of the worldwide volume of aluminum, it produces only about 1% of the global aluminum output, including primary and secondary (recycled) aluminum.

In 2018, the U.S. added aluminum to its critical metals list, but without enough domestic aluminum to meet industrial demand, we must turn to aluminum imports. China is the world’s largest aluminum producer, but ongoing trade tensions mean we cannot rely on China for a consistent aluminum supply chain.

This was not always the case, as recently as 1981, the US produced 30% of the world's primary aluminum, and up through 2000, the U.S. was the world's largest producer of primary aluminum. By 2014, U.S. output slipped to 3.5% of the world’s production and ranked sixth. This trend has continued to where the market is today.

Top producers of primary and secondary aluminum by country:

  1. China – 54.1%
  2. Australia – 15.4%
  3. Brazil – 7%
  4. India – 4.9%
  5. Russia – 2%
  6. Saudi Arabia – 1.3%
  7. Jamaica – 1.2%
  8. Canada – 1.1%
  9. United States – 1%

Consumers of aluminum by country or region:

  1. China – 58.7%
  2. Europe – 14%
  3. Asia (excluding China) - 11.4%
  4. North America – 9.2%
  5. Latin America – 1.7%
  6. Other – 5%

In an effort to reduce weight, the automotive, transportation, and aerospace industries use various aluminum alloys to manufacture components.  Aluminum is durable and by reducing vehicle weight, improvements are realized in fuel consumption and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Aluminum is also used in construction, electrical, and electronics industries, and in machined components used across virtually all industries. 

The production of aluminum metal begins with bauxite ore, which is made up of hydrated aluminum oxide (40% to 60%) mixed with silica and iron oxide. It requires 5 tons of bauxite ore to make 2 tons of alumina. For every 2 tons of alumina 1 ton of aluminum is produced.

Worldwide production of primary aluminum was approximately 65.3 million tons in 2020. China was the leading producer at 37 million tons, followed by India, Russia, and Canada.

Aluminum is one of the most recycled metals in the world with 90% of the aluminum used in automotive and construction applications being recycled. Secondary aluminum production requires 95% less energy than the production of primary aluminum.

In addition to global supply and demand realities associated with aluminum, there are additional sourcing considerations for manufacturers here in the U.S. 

  • Domestic materials sources only – many manufacturers have imposed Made-in-the-USA policies that prohibit offshore materials sourcing.
  • DFARS (Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement) –DFARS limits the source of origin for certain specialty materials in order to protect the country’s processing capability and its supply chain from reliance on critical foreign materials. Aluminum is one of the few metals that DFARS DOES NOT apply to, but some published descriptions are broad and can cause confusion. It is common practice for many shops to include a ‘DFARS Required’ statement on all purchase orders. When it comes to sourcing aluminum this can slow the process as typically an exception must be granted before the purchase order can be processed.
  • RoHS Compliant Materials - All manufacturers, resellers, distributors, and assemblers that sell electrical or electronic equipment containing restricted materials in the EU must be RoHS-compliant. This includes aluminum alloys that contain lead (Pb) or other restricted materials.

What does all this mean to you?

It is becoming more difficult to source aluminum materials the way you used to.  Though U.S. mills are doing their best to produce aluminum alloys in the most efficient formats and quantities to meet demand, the reality is, you may need to be flexible in alloy, dimension, delivery time, or country of origin in order to keep production on schedule.  6061 sheet and plate is a good example of a specification in thinning supply.

 At TCI Precision Metals, we are capable and willing to provide the additional processing necessary to meet your materials specifications, but please, try to involve us as early as possible in your production planning.  Working together we will get you the materials you need, pre-machined to your specifications, and ready to go directly from receiving to machining.

We would appreciate your opinion on acceptable aluminum materials sourcing.  Please take our brief online survey. This is a blind survey; your information will not be shared with anyone else.   If you would like to receive a copy of the completed survey, please provide your email at the end and we will send it to you. 

Thanks for reading –

Ben

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