Alcoa develops process to use aerospace alloys in smartphones and tablets

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For the stumblebums of the world who habitually damage their electronic devices by dropping them, Alcoa has a smartphone, tablet, or notebook for you.

Alcoa announced today that researchers at the aluminum producer’s Westmoreland County research center have developed a process that allows consumer electronic manufacturers to use lightweight, high-strength aerospace alloys as enclosures for the devices without sacrificing the finish and brilliant colors consumers demand.

Using aerospace aluminum instead of moderate- to low-strength alloys will reduce the weight of a smart phone by as much as 10 percent while make the device more dent-resistant, according to the company.

Alcoa applied for a patent for the technology, which it called ProStrength Finishing, earlier this year.

It is an improvement in a process called anodizing, which aluminum producers have used for years because it enables them to put a corrosion-resistant, durable clear or color finish on their metal.

In anodizing, aluminum is immersed into an acid bath and an electric current is sent through the solution. Dies can be added to the bath to change the color of the metal.

“It’s an integral part of the aluminum surface," Leighton Cooper, director of technology at the Alcoa Technical Center, said. "It won’t chip. It won’t flake, any of that.”

Mr. Cooper said conventional anodizing worked well with moderate- and low-strength aluminum alloys. But when it was used on aerospace grades, the finish and surface of the metal was inconsistent.

The new process changes that.

“You can get that very consistent, clear look or you can get clear colors as well,” he said. “That wasn’t achievable before the development of ProStrength.”

Aerospace alloys are 100 to 150 percent stronger than the aluminum used in the devices, according to Mr. Cooper. Using them in conjunction with ProStrength will give consumers the lighter weight devices they demand without sacrificing the aesthetics and durability they want, he said.

Alcoa said its technical center is the largest, light metals research center in the world. Other advancements to come out of it recently are a wastewater treatment process that mimics wetlands and a process for treating aluminum sheet that will expand its use in the automotive market.

Len Boselovic: or 412-263-1941.

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