Taking Steps to Ensure Quality Imported Aluminum Materials
August 11, 2010

In recent years the United States has seen offshore imports of aluminum and curtainwall quickly grow. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2005 U.S. imports from China of bauxite and aluminum were valued at $464,188,000; in 2009 the value was reported as $599, 932, 000 (down some compared to 2008, which was listed as $617, 672, 000). While the drop between 2008 and 2009 could be attributed to the slowdown in commercial construction, some in the industry still have concerns. In particular, how can architects, specifiers and contract glaziers choosing to work with imported materials ensure they are getting a quality material? Even more specific, how can they verify the alloy content of the extrusion?

As one anonymous reader commented, “The major [domestic] manufacturers extrude their own material and only have proper billets in stock. In Asia, they may be using a common extruder with all kinds of alloys on the floor, increasing the temptation to ‘just use that one, no one will really know’ if they run out of the proper alloy for the job.”

Oliver Stepe, senior vice president with YKK AP in Austell, Ga., explained, “The alloy and temper are critical as they establish a baseline for structural values when designing an extrusion used in fenestration systems such as a storefront, window, or curtain wall,” he said. “Control of the alloy and temper within the prescribed standard ensures the product’s performance.”

Stepe pointed out that from a YKK AP standpoint, his company melts and casts its own billet so they are able to control the alloy and temper of the extrusion.

“Even when we do import we do so through our company’s affiliates, which are all on the same global standard,” he said.

However, he also pointed out that for those who may be purchasing materials offshore—or from any domestic manufacturer—it’s not difficult to test the alloy content and temper. “They could take a sample to any major testing lab to have those levels read,” Stepe said.

Other domestic manufacturers also have concerns.

“Based on conversations I’ve had in the past with glaziers who have gone that route there’s been a lot of misunderstanding of what’s required to do a job here in the United States,” says Dave Hewitt, director of marketing for EFCO, a Pella Company, in Monett, Mo. “There can be issues with quality. Even though you see a lot of capital investment in the equipment and new plants, not everyone necessarily has the knowledge, understanding or track record.”

Hewitt also adds, “There are a lot of hard-working people in the United States who need work and we have a lot of capacity, which makes us competitive.”

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