An interview with sales director Giorgio Di Betta on the technical trends and outlook of the company
by Alberto Pomari
Based in Rovato (near Brescia), founded in 1968, Eural is among the best-known Italian aluminium extruders and the world leader in the segment of free cutting bars made of aluminium alloys with high machinability; Eural extrusions and drawn items are used in applications all over the world, especially in the mechanical and automotive industries. Eural continuously invests in research and development of materials, industrial technologies and heat and mechanical treatments of semis. To sum up the most recent technical and sales developments of the Rovato-based company, with special reference to innovative alloys, we interviewed its sales director, Giorgio Di Betta.
More or less two years ago we presented your 6026 Lead Free alloy, a valid alternative to common 6000 Al-Mg-Si alloys with lead additions for free cutting; how is the penetration of this new lead-free product going? How far have you gone in developing 2033, your new alloy in the 2000 Al-Cu lead-free series with higher properties?
First of all we should say that our production program is very extended: from the typical 2011 lead containing alloy with high free cutting properties to 2024, to 6064A, to 6082, right up to 7075 for the highest level of mechanical strength; these alloys are hard to produce at the foundry difficult to extrude, must receive appropriate heat treatments and are suitable to specific, special and advanced applications. Undoubtedly our 6026 alloy, which we developed in 2002 and registered two years later, represented an important turning point in our productions for bars with medium-high mechanical strength, particularly suitable both for the production of bars for free cutting and shaped profiles, since besides having good mechanical properties it also has excellent free cutting properties.
This alloy has already been approved by the main automotive manufacturers and by the mechanical industry, but we were surprised at the speed with which the main US automotive manufacturers approved the lead free version of alloy 6026, “6026 Lead Free”, and the sales results we are reaching exceed our expectations. It is quite clear that 6026 Lead Free, as we reported in an article published by A&L about one and a half years ago, is an excellent material, but manufacturers used to the properties of 2000 alloys, such as 2011, need something more. As we know, what makes these 2000 alloys with high cutting properties is undoubtedly the high mechanical strength and the small size of the chips produced during machining.
6026 Lead Free forms chips which are small but not as small as those produced with 2011 alloy. For this reason for some years we continued developing new 2000 alloys which could be suitable for our end user’s purposes, working hard on the chip forming and even on the surface appearance after anodizing; I would like to point out that the 2011 alloy, with its 5-6% copper content, is not highly suitable for anodic oxidation. In the formulation of a new composition we therefore decided to reduce the copper content, limiting it to about 2.7% and eliminating lead and tin.
This is how, after trials and tests, a new alloy was born, and the American Aluminum Association added to its list of registered alloys with the name of 2033, attributed on August 14th, 2018.
Why did you choose to eliminate lead and tin? Could you summarise what is going on in terms of regulations?
Regarding lead, I would like to point out that in compliance with the European RoHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances) directive, as from May 18th, 2021, it will no longer be possible to sell to clients any products with a lead content higher than 0.1% by weight. RoHS applies to all elec-tric, electronic and medical products, while the automotive industry only follows these directives for the electric or electronic parts of the vehicles, while for other parts or items the ELV (End of Life Vehicle) directive applies, which is the directive that regulates the disposal of products at the end of their life cycle. It is very likely that the ELV regulation might be destined to be aligned with RoHS within a few years. There is also a third regulation, REACH, which acts as a framework for all existing norms, is managed by the European Chemical Agency and requires all manufacturers to show on the label the lead content of products if this goes beyond the limits indicated by the regulation. If the REACH norm were to place limits on the lead contents, this would certainly affect the RoHS and ELV directives too. It is however a well-known fact that lead has toxic effects, for this reason for a long time now European norms have been very restrictive in respect to its use even if it’s an element in alloys. On our part we came to the conclusion that eliminating lead was an issue which needed to be tackled with the utmost care, which is why we dedicated great efforts in terms of studies and research to this topic. Regarding tin, this is not so much a health issue as a matter of ensuring that the material will have the best possible strength properties: It is well known that tin at working temperatures of above 140 °C may become brittle, which brought us to the decision of evaluating alternatives, our 2033 alloy consequently has a maximum bismuth content of 0.8%.
Along with all other European aluminium manufacturers, we definitely support the lead limit of 0.1%, whereas the previous limit of 0.4 %; it is clear that such a choice also implies a further protection barrier, a technological limit preventing a disorderly invasion of oriental productions of aluminium semis with a low cost and poor quality.
Are composition limits therefore an opportunity for evolved operators?
This is undoubtedly the case, I would like to point out that Chinese competition is offering extrusions in alloys similar to 2011, even though properties and quality are not up to European standards, and it is presumable that it might have relevant technological difficulties on new alloys such as 2033 which require remarkable processing and production knowledge and capabilities. The best method to stop the invasion of poor quality products from outside the EU is quality, protected by norms, and definitely not the mere levying of tariffs. For quite some time we have been asking the European Community to protect aluminium semis by means of import tariffs, this seems to be difficult to obtain, we therefore ask to remove the tariff on the purchase of aluminium slabs and billets. Since there are no investments in Europe in raw material production capacity, there is no reason to use a tariff for a product which is less and less European. At any rate things are evidently not so simple, it is not enough to vary the chemical composition of an alloy in order to guarantee optimal properties, the entire production cycle of the material, from the foundry to the extrusion process, to the final heat and mechanical treatments of the bars and profiles must be fine-tuned, in order to provide the end user with a completely reliable quality product. After the necessary lab tests, internal experiments on a semi-industrial scale and finally real use campaigns in partnership with some important clients, we reached our aim of being able to achieve comparable chips for 2033 and 2011, with the advantage of good mechanical properties (370 MPA of minimum ultimate tensile strength compared to 2011’s 310 MPA) combined with a good response to anodic oxidation even with regards to thickness thanks to the reduced copper content, unlike what can be obtained with 2011. There are no doubts that 2033 is the solution for those requiring 2000 alloys free from lead and tin, with high machining properties and high reliability.
Best wishes, then, for a good success of the new alloy. From a more general standpoint, how was 2018 for Eural? In terms of production, what levels have been reached in 2018? What are your main markets? And how much does distribution affect your sales?
Undoubtedly the year was very positive, our company’s balance proves it and the overall datum at the end of 2018 will be even better than the excellent 2017 result. Especially the first part of 2018 was particularly exciting, while the second part of the year showed a significant decrease in the market with a reduction of our clients’ stocks, who had previously increased the quantities ordered also in consideration of our lead times which had on average increased.
Secondly, the physiological decrease in the second part of the year is a relatively constant rule in years gone by exept for the end of 2017. Finally we are recording a general decrease in consumption due to the current political uncertainty and especially a marked drop recorded in car sales, in Italy and Europe; as we know the automotive sector is a driving force for aluminium. In terms of quantities produced we are above 70,000 tons of overall production, split into drawn and extruded bars and custom designed extruded profiles for industry in general. Finally, regarding markets, as far as extruded and drawn products, distribution takes roughly 45% of the total shipped, the rest is above all automotive, aeronautical, mechanical and pneumatic industry.
And regarding prices and sales margins, are you noticing decreases? Are materials coming from the Far East competitive?
Actually, even though quantities arriving from China and Russia are increasing, with prices close to be dumping, especially from China, on the price front we are not seeing excessive confusion. The preceding workload has not been completely finished yet and this is still keeping up prices on the market. In order to evaluate competition it is essential, as we said previously, to consider not just the selling price but also the qualitative aspects: in many production segments there is still a strong technological gap between European and Chinese products. As we know, composition, as regards hard and semi-hard alloys, is the main element which distinguishes producers. 65% of our quality starts in the foundry and the material coming from Eastern countries is far from reaching the right quality level.
And European competition?
Regarding Europe, our direct competitors in this specific production segment have the right experience, like us, and can cast alloys properly. We should at this point note
that bars are essentially divided into two groups: extruded and drawn. Regarding extruded products we compete perfectly with Europeans who reached an appreciable quality level. Regarding drawn products, we are definitely the leaders on the world markets, summing the production of all our competitors in Europe we obtain the number of tons produced by Eural. When it comes to drawn products Eastern countries are practically absent.