Sherri McCleary is an Alcoa legend. A materials engineer by training, she’s been with the company for 26 years, and has run technology teams large and small within the company including automotive, defense and commercial trucks. She was just named Director of Materials and Process Technology at the Alcoa Technical Center, the largest light metals research center in the world, which is where she and her colleague Jim Marinelli co-invented Alcoa 951. This is her take on the proprietary Alcoa 951 technology and what it means to the automotive industry.
Q: How did Alcoa 951 come to be?
Fifteen years ago, we were in a meeting with materials engineers from a major automaker, working with them to answer the question: how can we use larger amounts of aluminum in structural applications such as vehicle bodies?
During that discussion, we talked about the use of adhesives as one way to solve the years-old problem of efficiently joining aluminum to other materials. With that voice of customer literally in our head, we went back and looked at our technology portfolio to see what we had.
We found the fundamental technology we needed in Alcoa 951 - it was the core of what would ultimately enable this broad use of aluminum in vehicles. We just needed to refine it for a more structural application.
Q: What advantages does it offer over competing products?
It’s stronger, safer, and provides a longer life for the adhesive joints holding the car together. The technology is up to nine times more durable than previously used titanium zirconium. It is also a non-chrome material – it’s actually organic – so it is safer to work with and doesn’t have any negative environmental impacts.
Q: What has been the impact of this invention?
Honestly, it is enabling a historic shift from steel-based to aluminum-intensive automobiles, opening the door to safer, more fuel-efficient cars and trucks. We are moving from aluminum in luxury cars and defense applications – which it has played a part in for decades – to high-volumes of mainstream production where millions of vehicles are produced.
It’s also quickly becoming the industry standard because in any vehicle that needs to join different materials, Alcoa 951 simply out performs the competition.
Q: What does it mean to you to know that something you created is enabling a major shift to aluminum intensive vehicles?
We are putting cars on the road that are safer, faster, lighter, stronger and ultimately have a positive impact on our environment. I am extremely proud of what our team has accomplished not only for us, but for generations to come.