Alcoa opens world’s largest Aluminium-Lithium plant in Indiana

Alcoa officially opened the world’s largest aluminium-lithium plant in Lafayette, Indiana where it produces advanced, third-generation aluminium-lithium alloys for the aerospace industry. Aircraft manufacturers are increasingly turning to lighter and stronger aluminium-lithium alloys, which are less expensive than titanium and composites and enable better fuel efficiency and lower maintenance costs.

Lithium is the world’s lightest metallic element. When alloyed with aluminium and other metals, the material provides an outstanding combination of strength, toughness, stiffness, corrosion resistance, and high-temperature performance, and at a lower cost than titanium or composites. As a result, Alcoa’s aluminium-lithium materials:

  • lower the weight of single-aisle fuselage applications by up to 10% versus composites;
  • lower the cost to manufacture, operate and maintain planes by up to 30% versus composite-intensive airplanes, and at significantly lower production risk;
  • contribute to 20% better fuel efficiency; and
  • deliver passenger comfort features equivalent to composite-intensive planes, such as higher cabin pressure, large windows and higher humidity.

Alcoa supplies aluminium-lithium products to all major airframe manufacturers. Beyond aviation, Alcoa supplies aluminium-lithium products for:

  • Space applications, including on the ULA rocket and developing applications for Space X;
  • Automotive applications, including parts for commercial trucks, high-performance sports cars and Formula One cars; and
  • Military applications.

To keep pace with demand, the Company has expanded its aluminium-lithium capabilities at the Alcoa Technical Center outside Pittsburgh, at its Kitts Green facility in the United Kingdom, and in Lafayette. Already, Alcoa has contracted $100 million in aluminium-lithium revenues for 2017.

Alcoa’s Lafayette cast house, located next to its extrusion plant, can produce more than 20,000 metric tons (44 million pounds) of aluminium-lithium annually—making it the largest facility of its kind in the world.

Alcoa’s materials scientists invented a majority of the alloys produced at the facility as well as the casting equipment and processing technology. The company offers the most complete portfolio of aluminium-lithium products, including extruded, forged and rolled parts. It has the number one market position in aluminium-lithium extrusions and a significant position on the Airbus A380, Airbus A350, Boeing 787, and Gulfstream G650.

Alcoa produces single-piece wing skins, including for wide-body airplanes, fuselage skins, wing stringers, floor beams, seat tracks and other components. The Company also is developing the first ever aluminium-lithium forging for a front fan blade for Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower engines.

The Lafayette facility is uniquely capable of making the world’s largest aluminium-lithium ingots—approximately 50% larger than the nearest competitor, and big enough to make any single-piece component on today’s aircraft. Complementing that capability, Alcoa operates the world’s widest, 220”” rolling mill at its facility in Davenport, Iowa, making it the only company capable of producing single-piece aluminium-lithium wing skins for the largest commercial airplanes. Single-piece parts make structures stronger, lighter and less expensive because they minimize the number of complex joints.

This is Alcoa’s second aerospace announcement in Indiana in five months. In May, the Company announced a $100 million expansion at its LaPorte facility where it will produce nickel-based superalloy jet engine parts.