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As global aluminum demand grows, LEED gains importance

As global aluminum demand grows, LEED gains importance

Aluminum spire debuted as lovers' perch.

Aluminum spire debuted as lovers' perch.

BY ROB McMANAMY | Oct 12, 2015

When King Kong famously climbed the Empire State Building in 1933, the record-breaking skyscraper was still just a year old. Overshadowed by that fictional ape's ill-fated romp was the tower's additional place in history as the first major building project to incorporate significant aluminum components and fabricated structures in its construction. Seen as weather-proof and corrosion-resistant, that first aluminum application is also credited as an early milestone in practicable sustainability.

Today, aluminum is recognized by many as one of the most energy-efficient and sustainable construction materials, boasting recyclable content of 50-85%. In recent years, aluminum-intensive, LEED-certified buildings have earned numerous international sustainability awards. Describing itself as "the world leader in aluminum solutions", Oslo-based Sapa Extrusions boasts more than 23,000 employees in 40 nations. The for-profit's mission is to shape a sustainable future through innovative aluminium solutions. "We are shaping a lighter future through a global reach and local presence within extrusions, building systems, and precision tubing," says its website.

With all this as background, BuiltWorlds recently had the opportunity to visit with Scott Condreay, the architectural engineering manager at Sapa's North American Technical Center (NATC) in Monroe, La. A 30-year veteran of the aluminum extrusion industry, he has experience in all facets of extrusion design, application, manufacturing, finishing, fabrication and project management. BW asked Condreay to provide some informed insights on aluminum's place and prospects in the modern built environment.

1. WHAT ROLE DOES ALUMINUM PLAY IN THE CONSTRUCTION WORLD TODAY?

The global aluminum demand is forecast to grow to 74 million tons by 2020¹. In North America, the aluminum demand surged by five percent in 2014, and has grown 30 percent back to normal levels after the drop in 2008. Aluminum has been used in the construction industry for over 50 years, but it’s starting to play a bigger role with ‘going green’ becoming more of a priority. As more companies seek to be LEED certified and use sustainable materials, aluminum is a sought after material. Not only that, but now we have the ability to offer better finishes, different geometry for aesthetics and better machinery for more efficient production.

2. IN WHAT WAYS DOES ALUMINUM HELP WITH STRENGTH, SUSTAINABILITY AND INNOVATIVE DESIGN IN TODAY'S BUILT ENVIRONMENT?

Aluminum helps provide all three of those things. In terms of durability, aluminum alloys commonly have tensile strengths of between 10,000 and 102,000 psi. Its density is about 1/3 of steel, which provides an excellent strength-to-weight ratio. 

Being a sustainable product is of the utmost importance in design and construction today, and that is one of the key differentiators in aluminum. It has a high corrosion resistance, as it doesn’t rust out like steel or crack like vinyl. Aluminum reacts with the oxygen in the air to form an extremely thin layer of oxide, which can then be further increased by anodizing.

The flexibility of designing in aluminum extrusions is endless. The material allows for innovative design, such as texturizing the surface providing aesthetic appeal. A great example of the design aluminum can provide is the Empire State Building. A few years ago all of the windows were replaced, but the aluminum extrusions used to house the glass replicated the original design to a tee. Its design elements are a huge appeal to building owners and designers. 

3. WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE TODAY IN THE ALUMINUM EXTRUSIONS INDUSTRY?

The biggest trend we are seeing in building and construction right now is the increasing demand for energy-efficient materials. This is strongly highlighted in the move towards creating LEED-certified buildings. Using aluminum in building projects allows builders to minimize their carbon footprint during construction – from flooring to light fixtures. Owners also are opting to use photovoltaic panels in their buildings to increase their energy efficiency. These are housed in aluminum extrusions in order to accommodate the additional hardware needed for these panels. 

Within the LEED criteria, builders receive credit for using highly recycled content of the materials, making aluminum a very attractive choice. In fact, in the past builders would avoid recycled materials because of their higher costs, and simply go with steel. Now, builders are willing to pay more for the durability and sustainability of aluminum.

4. SAPA BILLS ITSELF AS AN 'INNOVATION LEADER'. HOW DOES IT EARN THAT TITLE?

Our NATCs serve as our research and development centers, which help us stay innovative leaders in the industry. We are deeply focused on design quality and product solutions based on rigorous analytic processes and experience, development that provides a savings cost, decreases in lead time and a solution to exact customer needs. NATCs have the design expertise to create cost-reducing, corrosion-resistant, sustainable and lightweight products. Our purpose is to offer unbiased opinions to our customers about design and manufacturability. We are able to look at the extrusion designs as an extrusion, whether it will be for a medical CAT-scan table or a roll bar for a Ford truck. Ultimately, this type of R&D allows us to adapt quickly to trends, while still producing strong and reliable products. 

5. HOW DO THE TECH CENTERS DEVELOP AND DISSEMINATE THESE INNOVATIONS?

One of the ways we innovate at our NATCs is through prototyping. Instead of 3D printing, like many suppliers use, we’ll make an aluminum prototype piece that allows customers to check fit, form and function of their design. This provides a cost effective method for validating their design before they do an entire product line. Some of our customers will use this for destructive testing as well, which will push us to find a better solution. Our NATCs allow us to work closely with our customers, often leading to innovative design and thinking through our collaboration.

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¹ Takada, A. and Song, Y. (2010, June 23). Global Aluminum Demand May Double by 2020 on China. Retrieved September 16, 2015 from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2010-06-23/global-aluminum-demand-may-grow-95-to-74-million-tons-in-2020-group-says

 

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