COMPANY PROFILE: Alcoa Wheel Products Division Shines Brightly
Alcoa is a world-class producer and manager of primary aluminum, fabricated aluminum and alumina facilities, and it is active in all major aspects of the industry. The company serves the aerospace, automotive, packaging, building and construction, commercial transportation and industrial markets, bringing design, engineering, production and other capabilities of its businesses to customers.
In addition to aluminum products and components including flat-rolled products, hard alloy extrusions and forgings, Alcoa also markets wheels, fastening systems, precision and investment castings, structures and building systems. The company has 122,000 employees in 44 countries and has been recognized as one of the most sustainable corporations in the world.
WHEEL PRODUCTS BUSINESSAlcoa Wheel Products (AWP) is one of the company’s many operating business units. There are two main divisions within AWP – Commercial Transportation and Automotive (including motorcycles). Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, AWP has approximately 3,000 employees working globally in North America, Latin America, Europe, Japan, Asia, South Africa and Australia.
The business unit is a worldwide producer of forged aluminum-disc wheels and accessories for heavy-duty trucks, buses, motor homes, pick-up trucks, SUVs, passenger cars and recreational vehicles. It produces aluminum products with innovations such as Dura-Bright surface treatment and Dura-Flange wear-protection wheels. Last year the company invested in a Dura-Bright wheel line in Mexico, opened a new forging plant in Russia and another plant for the Dura-Bright line in Hungary.
Alcoa’s wheel business started in 1948 when it pioneered the first practical forged aluminum truck wheel. After two years of intensive testing, wheel production began and aluminum wheels were supplied for Mack Canada. Since that time the business has grown, and AWP claims that more vehicles ride on Alcoa forged aluminum wheels than on any other brand of comparable product.
AWP utilizes many hydraulic forging presses to manufacture wheels for applications ranging from small, light truck through large commercial vehicles. The presses used for making these wheels range in tonnage capacities based on forging application. Cleveland is the company’s largest operating location.
A decade ago, Alcoa developed the Alcoa Production System to maximize productivity, quality and delivery performance. This system utilizes various tools to establish and maintain smooth process and product flow, much like the Toyota Production System. Alcoa’s implementation of the System has enabled the company to improve its process efficiencies. The System’s focus is on satisfying customer demands. It relies on increased internal efficiencies, the elimination of waste and “quick-to-market” solutions that offer customers what they want in a timely manner.
AWP is unionized, as are many companies that manufacture parts for the automotive sector. Early last November, the company’s Cleveland operation was struck by the UAW’s Local 1050. The strike, which lasted about eight weeks, ended when the 830 affected workers returned to work on Jan. 2, 2007, after ratifying a new four-year agreement. The company also successfully negotiated a four-year agreement with the International Association of Machinists last November.
For nearly 60 years, AWP has tried to meet and exceed the expectations of its customers. With recent labor problems now behind it, the company will continue to do what it does best – produce high-quality, environmentally friendly products through the combination of its forging capabilities, product design and supply-chain management expertise. As the commercial vehicle and automobile industries continue to evolve and change, Alcoa’s challenge is to offer wheel innovations to meet these changing needs.
“BUILT STRONG TO LAST A LIFETIME”As mentioned in a company video, AWP’s one-piece hot-forged wheels are “built strong to last a lifetime.” They offer high strength, durability and reduced weight relative to multi-piece cast and steel wheels. Forged wheels have been proven to be 423% stronger than steel wheels and more than twice as strong as cast wheels in comparable load testing. This is the same technology the company uses to produce wheels for M-1 tanks and 747 jets, offering customers the strongest wheel for tough situations. Each wheel is designed to meet and exceed all OEM quality and strength standards.
Additionally, lightweight wheel strength lowers the vehicle’s suspension un-sprung weight, allowing faster suspension response, a smoother ride and improved traction when cornering. Additional benefits include reduced brake wear and chassis problems for passenger-vehicle owners. In commercial applications, lightweight forged wheels result in fuel savings, truer run, increased tire and brake life and reduced maintenance costs. They also increase a vehicle’s load-carrying capacity and resale value.
The one-piece design eliminates welds that concentrate stress where fatigue cracks can start. Forging also aligns the metal grain in a uniform direction along the contours of the wheel, increasing strength. Finally, all the forged aluminum wheels are precision-machined for a smooth and true rotation.
PRODUCT INNOVATIONAWP produces wheels ranging in size from 15-inch diameters to 25-inch crane wheels. All are one-piece wheels forged of 6061-T6 aluminum. This alloy is perfect for the application in that it possesses an optimal combination of strength, durability, corrosion performance and ease of manufacture. The strength of the wheel is a result of the company’s unique forging and heat-treating processes. Alcoa has refined the forged-wheel manufacturing process using a proprietary multi-stage forging sequence, which imparts a great deal of mechanical work into the product.
After forging, the wheel is heat treated to maximize its strength. Finally, the wheel is machined, making an extremely round and consistent product. These characteristics significantly reduce any vibration in the vehicle as compared to fabricated steel wheels.
Alcoa assures that every wheel is capable of withstanding the harshest environments by evaluating its wheels in a variety of fatigue and impact tests. Forged wheels – with their higher strength, ductility and toughness – easily pass the stringent impact test that shatters cast aluminum wheels.
MARKET-DRIVEN SOLUTIONSAWP forges and finishes all wheels for application-specific fitments. It does not rely on adapters or other retrofits. The company uses its hub piloted mounting system for its single-wheel and dual-wheel designs. The cap nuts clamp the wheel and the hub centers the wheel. The same stud and cap nut are used for the entire vehicle with no inner cap nuts.
Its stud located ball seat mounting system is a little different. Cap nuts center and clamp the wheel. There are separate right- and left-hand threaded studs and cap nuts for each side of the vehicle. This system requires inner and outer cap nuts for dual assemblies. Application-specific fitments are purpose-built for each vehicle platform, ensuring accurate fit.
Maintenance is easy on the recently introduced Dura-Bright wheels. The wheels do not have a coating or finish. Their secret is a patented surface treatment that penetrates the aluminum, allowing the wheels to keep their shine while giving them a rigid composition to withstand a lot of wear. They don’t require scrubbing or polishing to clean – just a spraying with soap and water. Alcoa was recently awarded a PACE award for Dura-Bright technology in the automotive new products category at the 2007 Automotive News PACE Awards in Detroit.
Within the passenger-vehicle market, AWP offers vehicle applications for global OEM partners and also supports the aftermarket with wheel fitments for end-users. AWP supports relationships with leading domestic, Asian and European automotive manufacturers.