(Reuters) – Alcoa Inc, the company that helped create the aluminum industry more than a century ago, is reinventing itself as a manufacturer of specialized components for aerospace and automotive customers, including some that contain no aluminum at all.
The company’s deal for jet engine part maker Firth Rixson, which uses little aluminum, is its biggest move yet to escape the terrible primary aluminum market by crafting the parts its customers need, even if they are made of nickel or titanium.
It announced the proposed $2.85 billion deal to buy Firth Rixson earlier on Thursday. Alcoa talks constantly about expanding its downstream businesses, which sell truck wheels, aircraft parts and other goods. Now it is rebranding itself in ways that would have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago.
“We are really material-agnostic,” Chief Executive Officer Klaus Kleinfeld said in an interview on Thursday. “We love, internally, that we have fights over what is the right material, in front of our customers, together with our customers.”
From an upstart, this would be one thing. But Alcoa has been synonymous with aluminum since 1888, and it has a role in every part of the sector: mining bauxite, refining it into alumina and smelting alumina to create aluminum.
And yet in retrospect, Thursday’s deal is not the first sign of a shift into other metals. Aerospace, which accounted for 17 percent of revenue last year, is already dominated by nickel-based alloys and titanium, as well as aluminum-lithium alloys.
In January, Alcoa quietly revised the company description that appears in its news releases. Instead of “the world’s leading producer of primary and fabricated aluminum,” it now introduces itself as “a global leader in lightweight metals engineering and manufacturing.”
Last week it said it would invest $25 million in Hampton, Virginia, to produce largely nickel-based alloy jet engine blades. In May, it broke ground on a $100 million facility in Indiana to make nickel-based alloy engine parts.
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