Aluminium continues to play an important role in a vast array of applications and products for the built environment. With a density of 2,71gm/cm³, it is light, only about a third of the weight of steel, and just as strong and durable.
Dubbed the “magical metal” due to its diverse range of physical, chemical and mechanical properties in both cast and wrought forms, aluminium is a highly usable and attractive construction material.

Aluminium extrusions used to manufacture window and door frames are also particularly well suited to double glazing, which has been a growing requirement for buildings since the SANS 10400X Building Regulation came into effect. These are specifically specified because of the benefit of sealing the frames and eliminating air leakage.

Coating for protection
Powder coating or anodising of window and door frames provides further protection to the aluminium surface. New powder technologies are allowing for a longer guaranteed service life, which, in the case of super durables, can be up to 25 years.

However, Mark Krieg, executive director of the Aluminium Federation of South Africa (AFSA), points out that it is of great importance for architects and building owners to specify correctly, especially for buildings on the coastal belt or heavy industrial areas (see map below). “In these cases an epoxy or unsealed anodising intermediate treatment is recommended by AFSA to ensure a long service life,” he advises.

The importance of specifying especially the location of the building  cannot be over emphasised. It may cost a bit more for the coating, but in the overall cost of the fenestration and the complete building this cost is minimal, and a small price for years of excellent service,” Krieg stresses.

A growing economic industry
In addition to aluminium’s functionality, durability and appearance, the industry built around aluminium and its alloys contributes to gross domestic product (GDP), employment and foreign exchange earnings. In fact, according to AFSA, the industry is vital to the strategic economic development of the South African economy.

Despite poor economic conditions since the economic collapse in 2008/09, Krieg indicates that the demand for aluminium products has continued to grow. Some of the increases have been supplied by imports, which have challenged the local manufacturers. “However, they have been nimble in adapting their strategies, and have come through this period stronger and more focussed,” says Krieg.

Imports
He states that extrusion producers, 60% of whose products are supplied to the building and construction sector, have faced the worst of the flood of imports, but have also adapted. An area of note is the ongoing investment by the aluminium industry in training, quality, continuous improvement, and in plant and equipment, notably the establishment of the first vertical powder coating line in South Africa.

Hard-hit areas
The foundry sector unfortunately continues to be severely challenged on all fronts. AFSA, along with numerous organisations, has worked with the Department of Trade and Industry and the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa to secure quality scrap for local beneficiation at a preferential price.

“To date, this regulation has had limited impact, in some cases worsening the situation. However, foundries that have focused on continuous improvement, investment in productivity improvement and training are doing well. This is especially true of companies supplying niche markets and export markets,” says Krieg.

Outlook for 2017
“With the local economy at the very low level of about 0% growth rate, I would not expect 2017 to see much more than steady growth. In general the aluminium industry is performing well. In specialised areas, we anticipate import replacement to accelerate, but in others import leakage is likely to continue in 2017. Growth should continue at a level of 2% to 4% above GDP,” he states.

Growth areas
AFSA has been closely involved in two studies related to the South African aluminium industry. The first was with McKinsey and Co, which identified building and construction as one of the future growth areas for the industry, along with packaging, electrical and the automotive sector. A doubling in demand, and employment by 2025 is possible if appropriate action is taken now.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) launched an important project which mapped a South African Aluminium Industry Roadmap (SAAIR). AFSA, along with industry, academics and government officials, met in a number of forums to develop the roadmap, as well as to identify, analyse and evaluate all significant sectors that use aluminium products in terms of social impact, growth and employment potential. This roadmap is currently in draft format and will be made available once completed.

Overall AFSA sees a bright future for the aluminium industry in South Africa, and its contribution to economic development, employment and social upliftment.