CCIF Preview: Jim Dickson of Rio Tinto talks aluminum

Jim Dickson is the Director of Global Automotive Strategy at Rio Tinto. He will address CCIF on aluminum on January 29.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario — January 20, 2016 — The biggest gathering in the history of the Canadian collision repair industry is barely a week away. The Canadian Collision Industry Forum (CCIF) Cars & Technology Showcase takes place January 28 and 29 in Vaughan, Ontario.

Collision Repair magazine recently chatted with Jim Dickson, Director of Global Automotive Strategy at mining giant, Rio Tinto, for a bit of sneak peak as to what he’ll be talking about when he addresses the event. As the man responsible for automotive strategy at one of the world’s largest producers of aluminum, it is no surprise Dickson will be on hand at CCIF to talk about one of the biggest issues in the collision repair industry today, the ongoing shift to aluminum in car body construction. The steel-versus-aluminum debate shifted into high gear this year with the introduction of the aluminum-intensive Ford F-150. Coming in 2016 are an aluminum intensive Cadillac CTS, as well as other vehicles. Dickson will be on hand to talk about some of the issues around aluminum as an automotive material, while putting into context this epic one-time shift in the course of the industry.

“Over the next five to seven years, we think this is going to be significant. We’re confident we are going to see a larger shift to aluminum in the use of automotive bodies,” says Dickson. Shop owners have expressed concern about this shift. They worry about costs around clean rooms and the difficulty of working with the metal.

“We’ll be there to present a message that I hope will allay or reduce some of the concerns about aluminum, that while it is different, it is not more difficult. That is the message: It’s different, but not more difficult. We’re going to explain why that’s the case,” says Dickson. He’ll also offer context around why this shift is happening now. “Why are we using more aluminium in the automotive industry? Where is the value proposition? What I think is appropriate to say, is that I think we’re entering a completely new era in terms of automotive technology. There is a revolution in car technology happening today. Part of this is the new CAFE standards that are driving a shift toward lighter-weight vehicles. Aluminum is not the only tool to achieve a lighter-weight car. Aluminum is part of a menu of change to reduce weight. But there are concerns about CO2 emissions, and this is part of the effort to respond to those concerns,” says Dickson.

Dickson will also point out in his address that while we’re seeing it used more in car bodies, the use of aluminum is not new in cars, not even in mass market models. 

“This has been an ongoing quiet revolution.” he says. “Back in the ’80s, we started to see aluminum wheels. Before that you had copper radiators. When is the last time you saw one of those? Radiators are an aluminum alloy now. Aluminum has been used in the automotive industry for fifty years. It’s interesting at see how aluminum has been offering its unique proposition in the auto industry over such a long period of time.”

On a more technical note, Dickson will also talk specifically about the many different alloys available now and some of the technological advances in aluminum production. Also important will be some discussion around the issues of corrosion in aluminum. It is often thought that aluminum doesn’t really corrode, which is true to an extent.

“Automotive grade aluminum is naturally corrosion resistant. Which is a real strength. You just don’t see it rust out like steel does. That’s because aluminum produces a natural oxide layer on the outside that no longer reacts with air. That’s one of the key differentials. But there are some forms of corrosion that can happen, and we’ll talking about some of the issues around corrosion that are specific to aluminum. We think there is some information that collision repair industry people need to be aware of. What do collision repair experts need to know about corrosion when you go to repair aluminum? This is going to be important part of the conversation,” says Dickson. “In the future autos are going to be multi-material. So we have to ask, how does aluminum react with steel? What happens when you bond these materials? These are the issues that are going to be affecting the repair industry in the years to come. There are certain standards with respect to aluminum that you have to be aware of. But again, it’s just different, not difficult.”

Dickson will also present some of the results from a recent Drucker report on the use of aluminum in autos.

“The aluminum transpiration group at that organization has done a lot of research on aluminum dust … how does that affect repairs? Clearly, the F-150 set a new benchmark. That is a history-making change in vehicles in North America. Other automotive architectures, Jaguar for instance, those architectures have been using aluminum for a long time. But now the auto makers are faced with these new regulations. Power trains are going to have to get lighter. Clearly, we think this shift is going to be significant. We’ll talk about what we see as being a transformative event,” says Dickson.

For more information or to register for CCIF, please visit ccif.ca.


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