Exciting news hit the aluminum space last Thursday when Alcoa (NYSE:AA) announced plans for a $60-million expansion of its Alcoa Technical Center in Pennsylvania. The expansion’s aim is to accelerate the development of advanced 3D-printing materials and processes.
Specifically, Alcoa plans to produce materials designed for a variety of additive technologies. Its goal is to meet increasing demand for high-performance 3D-printed parts for the aerospace, automotive, medical and construction spaces.
The same day, Alcoa unveiled its patented Ampliforge™ process, a technique that combines advanced materials, designs and additives with traditional manufacturing processes. For example, using the Ampliforge™ process, the company will be able to design and 3D print near-complete parts, then finish the parts by treating them using traditional processes like forging. Alcoa said this process enhances the properties of 3D-printed parts, increasing toughness and strength while also significantly reducing material output.
“Alcoa is investing in the next generation of 3D printing for aerospace and beyond,” Alcoa’s chairman and CEO, Klaus Kleinfeld, said in a press release. “Combining our expertise in metal alloys, manufacturing, design and product qualification, we will push beyond the limits of today’s additive manufacturing. This investment strengthens our leadership position in meeting fast-growing demand for aerospace components made using additive technologies.”
Alcoa has existed since 1888, and for some it might be surprising to see the company shift from the resource space to technology. However, given that the aluminum market is in oversupply with no expected upside for the remainder of the year and possibly longer, it’s not hard to see why Alcoa is interested in diversifying.
One example of this transformation is the company’s $1.5-billion acquisition of RTI International Metals in March. RTI is a global supplier of titanium and specialty metals products for the commercial aerospace, defense, energy and medical device markets. Furthermore, in June, Alcoa invested $22 million in the latest hot isostatic pressing technology. It plans to use the technology, which strengthens the metallic structure of titanium, nickel and 3D-printed jet engine parts, at a facility in Michigan.
“As aerospace growth soars, Alcoa continues to invest in the latest technologies, creating added capacity to capture fast-growing demand,” Alcoa’s executive vice president, Olivier Jarrault, said at the time. “Combined with our expansions in LaPorte, Indiana and Hampton, Virginia and our growing 3D printing capabilities, this investment will give Alcoa the broadest capabilities to deliver high-quality titanium, nickel and 3D-printed parts for the world’s bestselling jet engines.”
What’s more, the company said that it has been creating 3D-printed tools, molds and prototypes for the past 20 years, and through the RTI acquisition, it has “gained 3D printing capabilities in titanium, other specialty metals and plastics for the aerospace, oil and gas and medical markets.”
Construction of the expansion has already begun, and is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2016. Ultimately, the expansion will build on the company’s additive manufacturing capabilities in California, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas and position it “to industrialize its advanced 3D printing capabilities across these and other manufacturing facilities.”
At close of day Friday, Alcoa’s share price was down 0.78 percent, at $9.45. Year-to-date the company is down 39.9 percent.
Securities Disclosure: I, Kristen Moran, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.