Aluminum Die-Castings

SIC 3363

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This classification is composed of establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing die-castings of aluminum (including alloys).

Industry Snapshot

Aluminum die-castings differ from other types of aluminum castings because of the difference in the type of mold used and the process by which the molten metal is delivered to the die. Whereas casting molds may be made of many different materials, including sand, plaster, iron, steel, and polystyrene, dies are made only of metal, most frequently steel. In die-casting, the die is filled with molten metal that is forced into it under pressure, unlike other casting processes where liquid metal is poured by gravity. Die-casting techniques are used to produce greater volumes of cast products than other types of casting.

According to Dun & Bradstreet, about 330 establishments were engaged in manufacturing die-castings of aluminum (including alloys) in 2010. Annual revenues were around $2.7 billion with industry-wide employment of 25,094 workers. Many industry establishments were centered in the Great Lakes region because of its proximity to the automotive industry. States with the most establishments in the business were California, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Indiana, however, had the most sales in the industry in 2010, at $866.4 million, followed by Arkansas with $300.1 million, Illinois with $267.5 million, and Kentucky with $255.3 million.

Background and Development

Herman Doehler, founder of Doehler-Jarvis, developed the first die-casting machine around the beginning of the twentieth century. The first commercially produced aluminum die-castings in the United States were manufactured in 1915. In 1946 the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that aluminum die-casting production totaled 73 million pounds, representing about 16 percent of the total die-casting production for all metals that year. Prior to the late 1960s, zinc was used in a majority of die-cast products, but in 1967 aluminum production surpassed that of zinc. Throughout the 1970s, aluminum production continued to expand dramatically, and by 1988 aluminum die-casting production reached 1.5 billion pounds.

As the die-casting industry entered the 1990s, aluminum remained in the top position. Its chemical and physical properties offered many advantages to industrial users. For example, aluminum die-castings weighed about 60 percent less than identical iron products, resisted corrosion, and were stronger than permanent mold or sand castings. Automated production methods produced high quantities at low per-unit costs. By the late 1990s, the automotive industry had discovered the benefits of aluminum and consequently became the largest market for aluminum castings, buying 25 percent of all aluminum produced and nearly one-half of all aluminum die-castings produced.

In 2001 the value of U.S. shipments of aluminum die-castings totaled $3.8 billion. The value of shipments from all aluminum foundries, including non-die-casting foundries, was $7.6 billion in 2004, down from nearly $8.2 billion in 2002.

The casting industry struggled through the economic recession of the late 2000s, and many businesses did whatever it took to stay in business, waiting for conditions improved. In one survey conducted by the North American Die Casting Association (NADCA), 78 percent of U.S. die-casters reported die-casting components were beginning to be produced domestically again, with fewer imports from foreign competitors. One reason for ending outsourcing was the volatile ranges of prices for metals in China, as well as quality issues and higher shipping costs.

Because die-castings accounted for roughly 57 percent of aluminum consumed in automotive production at the end of the first decade of the 2000s, aluminum die-casting shipments fell to 879,000 tons, followed by an 8.7 percent increase in 2008. Aluminum castings produced by the mold and sand cast processes declined as well. However, the conversion of engine blocks and cylinder heads to aluminum helped offset the loss of shipments in these processes even with the sluggish vehicle sales.

Current Conditions

Although the aluminum die-casting industry suffered during the economic recession at the end of the first decade of the 2000s and many plants had to shut down and lay off workers, by 2011 signs of recovery were beginning to be evident for the industry. U.S. aluminum production totaled 1.9 million metric tons (mmt) between January and June 2011, up almost 12 percent from the same period the previous year, according to the Aluminum Association.

According to the December 1, 2010, issue of the industry trade journal Modern Casting, the United States had the second largest aluminum die-casting industry in the world in 2009, recording production of 1.1 mmt. China was number one, with 3.3 mmt, and Japan was in third place, close behind the United States with 1 mmt.

Industry Leaders

Industry leaders in the early 2010s included Amsted Industries Inc. of Chicago, with 2010 revenues of $1.9 billion and 7,350 employees; Henderson, Kentucky-based Gibbs Die Casting Corp., a subsidiary of Koch Enterprises, with $210 million in sales and 1,299 employees in 2010; and Ohio Decorative Products Inc. of High Point, North Carolina, which generated $10 million with 1,200 employees in 2008. In addition, Pace Industries Castings of Fayetteville, Arkansas, was a major player, with $300 million in sales and 2,800 employees in 2010.

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