Alcoa to boost aluminium alloy production output

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Alcoa will open a new plant and expand two others to dramatically boost production capacity of new aluminium-lithium alloys designed to challenge the cost of composite structures for commercial aircraft.

The capacity expansion comes in response to increasing demand from the airliner manufacturing sector, including "current and planned commercial aircraft programmes", Alcoa said.

The New York-based metals supplier launched a new line of lightweight aluminium-lithium alloys for wing skins and fuselage panels last year.

The most recent alloys, including the S4 product, are designed to be cheaper to manufacture and maintain in service than "composite-intensive aircraft", Alcoa said.

The majority of the Boeing 787's structure is designed with carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP), a form of composite material that threatened to displace aluminium alloys in all of commercial aircraft construction.

Alcoa has challenged that perception with the new alloys introduced to airframers a year ago.

Also also said aluminium lithium can scale up production capacity faster and less expensively than producers of composite materials.

Airbus and Boeing plan to rapidly increase production over the next three years, with the latter expecting to raise monthly output by 40% in 2015.

Alcoa now plans to open a new facility in Lafayette, Indiana, by 2014. At full production capacity, the facility will deliver more than 20,000 metric tons of aluminium-lithium alloys a year.

Alcoa is also expanding aluminum lithium capacity at two existing plants, including the Alcoa Technology Center near Burrell, Pennsylvania, and Kitts Green plant in the UK.