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11th Japanese Researchers' Presentations (1):
Secret World of Aluminum

• Aluminum, used on the “Zero Fighter” during World War II and still in high demand today, could be processed more efficiently with the micro-processing technology, said Tatsuya Funazuka on April 24 during the 11th Japanese Researchers Crossing in Chicago (JRCC) presentations at the Japan Information Center of the Consulate-General of Japan in Chicago.

• Funazuka’s presentation, “Past and Present of the Aluminum Industry,” was one of the three presentations made this day. The other two presentations were: “How Antibody Works” by Yuta Asano, Ph.D. student at University of Chicago; and “Japan, Music, and Youth Culture: the Influence of Folk Songs on the 1960s’ Utagoe Movement” by Jun Hee Lee, Ph.D. student at University of Chicago.

• Funazuka, a visiting Ph.D. student at Northwestern University, is from the Ishikawa prefecture in Japan. Ishikawa is located next to the Toyama prefecture which boasts a thriving aluminum industry. Currently, he studies the micro-processing technology for aluminum alloys at the university.

• JRCC was established with the purpose of providing a forum for visiting researchers in the Chicago area to communicate and interacting with each other in their specialized fields of research.
• The group periodically gets together for presentation at the Japan Information Center. While the presentations are reports on highly specialized research, they are designed for layman’s understanding and interest, and the general public is welcome to participate.

Past and Present of the Aluminum Industry
by Tatsuya Funazuka

History of Aluminum

• Aluminum is a relatively new metal that has been produced for about 100 years. The production volume soared during the second half of the 20th century triggered by World War II, which helped us realize its significance in military use. After the war, it has been in production for a wide variety of purposes. During the first half of 1990s, the main production venue shifted from the industrialized nations to the developing countries, pushing the pace of output even higher. Why is the demand so high?

Traits of Aluminum

• It’s light, weighing only one third of iron. This enables the production of produce lighter automobiles and aircraft.
• It’s durable with high corrosion resistance.
• It’s easy to process.
• It has high conductivity. It’s only 60% of the conductivity of copper, but aluminum conducts twice the amount of electricity as does copper in the same weight because aluminum is one third lighter than copper. A majority of the conductive wires in Japan are made of aluminum today.
• It’s not harmful to humans. Therefore it’s used for food packaging, medical devices, etc.
• It is highly recyclable.

• Aluminum is also a soft metal (which could be a problem). The force necessary to bend aluminum is only one third of the force required to bend iron.

Aluminum Alloys

• Aluminum can be reinforced while maintaining the same level of lightness by mixing with other metal. By keeping the mixture rate under 10%, this can increase the corrosion resistance and processibility of the material, while its specific gravity remains unchanged. Aluminum alloys, thus created, can be divided into the following seven groups:

• 1000s: pure aluminum. Typically used for pots and pans and aluminum foils.
• 2000s: copper-added aluminum. This group is called duralumin.Used for industrial robot arm parts and aircraft parts.
• 3000s: manganese-added. Used for cans and roofing materials.
• 4000s: silicon-added. Used for walls and blocker in the automotive engine cylinder.
• 5000s: magnesium-added. With enhanced strength, it’s often used for cast aluminum wheels and ship hulls.
• 6000s: magnesium and silicon-added. Used for aluminum sashes, guard rails, etc.
7000s: zinc and magnesium-added. With its extreme hardness, it’s called “extra super duralumin” and used in products such as road bikes, aircraft, and ski stock.

• The 7000s group was initially developed by Japanese researchers to be used on the Zero fighter plane during the war, which excelled in turning performance due to its lightness. This material was later used in the B29 and other types of fighter planes by the United States and other nations after the Zero models were dismantled and investigated.

Funazuka’s Research

• The Toyama prefecture produces 40% of Japan’s entire aluminum output with advanced processing technology, and Funazuka has been hoping to add to it the micro-processing technology.

• There are two methods of aluminum alloy processing: the first is called “machining” where a product is shaped through grinding and shaving; and the second is “forming” where a product is finished through bashing and bending. The former method provides high precision but is costly; the latter lower precision and low cost, and fits for mass production. The focus of Funazuka’s research has been on how to incorporate the micro-processing technology into the forming method in order to achieve high precision with low cost.

A type of forming, called extrusion, is a method of pouring the material in a mold and pushing it out, and is highly adaptable for shaping metal products. Funazuka is interested in improving on this method, as part of his research, to increase the precision in product shaping and reducing irregularity. “I aim to develop and establish the micro extrusion technology for aluminum processing; I would love to realize an industrial revolution in micro processing,” Funazuka said.


Tatsuya Funazuka, a visiting Ph.D. student at Northwestern University


The usage of Alminium