Anodized aluminum is used in thousands of applications and remains a relatively low-cost finish that, for some markets, has no suitable replacement. Although significant growth isn't anticipated, the anodizing industry as a whole is healthy and should exhibit sustainable growth in the future
An important benefit of anodized aluminum is that its life cycle is relatively benign to the environment compared to other metal finishing processes. Still further inroads will be made in this area. Future improvements will include substitution of chemicals as they become included on global regulatory lists, as well as introducing new products that last longer, require less energy and use lower amounts or lower quality of water to process.
Future research will continue to develop innovative applications to expand beyond a mature market. New finishes for the construction industry may include anti-soiling technology that could actually help purify the air. Another focus will be on improving the resistance of anodized finishes to acids, alkalis and oxidative environments. Examples would be dishwasher safe cookware, exterior automotive finishes and medical device coatings.
Yet another focus area will be in nano-technology as scientists try to exploit the natural ability of the anodizing process to produce hundreds of billions of isolated high-aspect ratio capillaries and fill them with various metals/alloys and compounds all within a single square inch of high purity aluminum.
The recent recession coupled with continued globalization of manufacturing has impacted U.S. anodizers as would be expected. Several facilities have shut down, others have scaled back and some consolidation has taken place in the industry. Inexpensive labor and quality improvements continue to push high-volume finishing overseas -- the most notable examples are the consumer electronics and packaging markets. Recent success by the U.S. Aluminum Extrusions Fair Trade Committee, who have been active in defending against unfair practices by importers, have improved the business climate in the architectural market and further advancements can be expected as residential and commercial building begin to recover.
Jack Humble is President of Reliant Aluminum Products, reliantaluminumproducts.com.