The European rolling industry
Production; capacities; growth potential offered by new applications
In 2017, the European rolling industry produced approx. 5.2 million tonnes of rolled products. This production was almost exactly matched by demand (demand in 2017: 5.22 million tonnes), and represents an increase of 3.6 percent over the figure for 2016. Rolled products are utilised in the packaging industry, transportation sector, mechanical engineering, electrical technology, construction industry and many other fields. In quantitative terms, the packaging market is the most important one for the rolling mills. As the largest market and production location for the European aluminium rolling industry, developments in Germany are considered to be important indicators for the overall market.
In 2017, production in Germany increased slightly, by approx. 4,000 tonnes, to a total of 1,861,100 tonnes. During the same year, Germany alone accounted for 1.504 million tonnes of rolled products sold, or 30 percent of European production, a figure that is equivalent to an increase of 4.5 percent over the previous year. This makes Germany by far the largest purchaser of rolled products in Europe. However, not all of these products are utilised for production within Germany itself, for they are also sold on to customers in other countries.
Great Britain, which purchases 11 percent of the production of the European aluminium rolling industry, lies in second place behind Germany. Italy is in third place with 10 percent, but it has lost a great deal of its earlier importance for the industry. The fourth most important regional market in Europe for the rolling industry is France, which accounts for 8 percent, while Spain rounds out the top five, accounting for 4 percent of European demand.
Large excess capacities worldwide
The aluminium rolling industry is plagued by large excess capacities worldwide. In 2016, the industry boasted a capacity of 37 million tonnes, yet produced only 24.9 million tonnes. The GDA (General Association of the Aluminium Industry) in Düsseldorf expects global production in 2020 to reach 29.3 million tonnes, with a total capacity of 42.1 million tonnes. China in particular is increasingly important as a source of aluminium, with European imports from China increasing significantly in each of the past two years. China accounted for 4.6 percent of the European market in 2016. In addition to China, providers from countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia will be attempting to increase their shipments to European markets in future.
The transport industry is driving growth
The demand for rolled aluminium products is primarily being driven by the strong automotive market. As a result of strong demand from the automotive industry, all large German and European aluminium rollers have increased their capacities for body sheet. Body-in-white and vehicle components continue to be promising markets for the future. Numerous suppliers are currently working with aluminium rollers, for example, to develop new concepts for the use of aluminium sheet in car seats, while there is also additional growth potential in new application markets, such as truck cabs for the commercial and utility vehicle industry and new chassis solutions.
The share of semi-finished rolled aluminium products used in the European automotive manufacturing industry is set to increase significantly by 2025. Aluminium has already been successfully substituted for steel for the bodywork and hang-on parts (including the bonnet, fenders, doors etc.) in many premium vehicles, as well as in a number of mid-range cars, and many European OEMs have already made it clear that the use of aluminium will increase for bonnets, fenders and doors in the next generations of vehicles. The automotive industry is focusing on new aluminium alloys with improved mechanical properties, including better strength, formability and corrosion resistance. The development of new roller surface geometries and lubricants for the improvement of tribological properties is also moving full speed ahead.
The integration of the producers of semi-finished rolled aluminium parts early on during the vehicle concept phase usually makes it possible to select the optimum aluminium materials for the specific requirements of each component, something that can also allow for a reduction in manufacturing costs in accordance with the component concept. Furthermore, at the international level and in collaboration between OEMs and the aluminium industry, new cost-efficient concepts that are suitable for aluminium are being developed.
The aerospace industry represents another growth market for the aluminium rolling industry. In addition, aircraft construction is currently booming in Europe, the Americas and China alike. Aluminium also plays an important role outside the mobility sector, such as in the packaging industry in foil form or as sheet metal for cans. Rolled aluminium products also have good prospects in niche markets such as the construction industry and the field of consumer electronics, while special products offer additional untapped potential, as with the use of rolled plates, particularly for industrial applications, tool and mould construction, shipbuilding, mechanical engineering and the commercial and utility vehicle sector.