It's been several months since the Covid-19 pandemic began; one may wonder whether aluminum has any benefits that can make it useful in the fight against the virus, as well as how the industry is being forced to adjust to our new reality. Fortunately, thanks to aluminum's many positive attributes, it has a strong role to play in maintaining hygiene and effectively helping to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
At Clinton Aluminum, we've been as concerned as everyone else to see the rapid spread of the virus throughout the United States and the rest of the world. That is why we are making the health and safety of our staff, customers and partners our top priority. At the same time, we are doing everything we can to make sure that our customers are able to access the aluminum products they rely on to help their businesses thrive.
Todays topic concerns how aluminum is uniquely effective at combating Covid-19 and the changes to look for in the industry moving forward.
HOW IS COVID-19 IMPACTING THE ALUMINUM INDUSTRY?
To state the obvious, the coronavirus pandemic has been devastating to businesses everywhere. Every industry has been impacted, and while certain products such as personal protective equipment (PPE) have seen increased demand, even in these cases there have been severe interruptions and delays to supply chains.
The aluminum industry is no different. The pandemic is global in scope and has had a serious effect on international supply chains, complicating the importing and exporting of raw materials such as aluminum and other metals. It doesn't help that the leading producers of aluminum are among the countries hardest hit by the outbreak, including China, Russia and India.
Further exacerbating the problem, our industry was already dealing with trade wars with China, Canada and other exporters of aluminum. Put all of this together, and you would assume that the price of aluminum would be going up. However, due to decreased demand and lower economic output, the price of raw aluminum has gone down significantly in the past 6 months. This is largely the product of lower output in the automotive industry, which accounts for nearly a quarter of all aluminum consumption on an annual basis. The pandemic has also had a devastating effect on the aerospace industry.
While Covid-19 has increased volatility in the industry, Clinton Aluminum knows that our customers rely on us to supply quality aluminum in a timely and efficient manner. The market can rest assured that this will continue despite the pandemic.
THE HYGIENIC PROPERTIES ASSOCIATED WITH ALUMINUM
During the current health crisis, it's been encouraging to see the rapid and vigorous response from all types of industries to ensure the well-being and safety of staff and customers. Moving forward, aluminum has an important role to play in encouraging and maintaining proper hygiene.
First, it's important to note that aluminum has long been recognized as a critical material by the US Commerce and Defense Departments. In fact, aluminum has been labeled as vital to national security, “especially in an unexpected or extended conflict or national emergency.” (https://www.aluminum.org/news/american-aluminum-essential-industry-moment-national-emergency) This is because it is a central aspect of key industries such as medical equipment, military and defense, food and beverage, transportation and construction.
Aluminum, with its sleek, easy-to-clean surfaces, is recognized for its hygienic properties. This has made it an indispensable part of both the healthcare and food and beverage industries.
To take just one example, the sanitary and protective attributes of aluminum make it a popular choice in pharmaceutical packaging. Blister packs and tubes are made with a thin, protective layer of aluminum to form a barrier that protects the enclosed medicine from heat, moisture, bacteria and odor.
Aluminum is the ideal material for this application thanks to its malleability. This means the packaging can be deformed without affecting the barrier. Aluminum can be found in a wide range of pharmaceutical products, such as substrates, laminates and more.
HOW ALUMINUM IS ALREADY USED IN THE HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY?
Another property that has made aluminum such a popular choice in the medical equipment industry is its natural corrosion resistance. This is an important consideration for any application in which hygiene is a priority. Aluminum naturally forms a protective oxide layer on its surface as it reacts to the oxygen in the air. In fact, even if aluminum is scratched or dented, the protective layer will form again on its own. Furthermore, surface treatments can be added to enhance the corrosion resistance of any alloy.
Considering the strong emphasis being placed on sterilization and disinfection now, it should also be noted that repeated deep cleansing often involves cleaning agents with a high alkaline content. This is when the enhanced corrosion resistance of high performance aluminum alloys is even more critical.
So how is aluminum used in the healthcare industry? One example is medical tools and implements that often incorporate aluminum. Another is the trays, containers and organizers that you find in medical offices, examination rooms, and hospitals. The ability to be able to quickly sanitize all such surfaces in a medical environment is especially important during the crisis.
Other medical equipment that might be made from aluminum includes ventilators, gurneys and rolling carts, heart monitors, and imaging equipment. The tubes of a stethoscope are made from aluminum, as are many components in the electrical devices you will find in hospitals and clinics.
The high thermal conductivity of aluminum makes it a prime material of choice for the plastics processing industries, particularly for the manufacture of medical devices and PPE. High strength 7000 series grades are used in injection molds for plastic parts used in the manufacture of medical instruments. Dimensionally stable and corrosion resistant 5000 series cast products are ideal for thermoforming molds used in making clear thermoplastic parts for face shields, protective barriers and other PPE products.