Surface finishing will also be a topic at ALUMINIUM. What current issues are occupying the industry? What research projects are underway in this area? An interview with Alexa A. Becker from the VOA.
"Surface-loving, diverse, confident"
ALUMINIUM: Ms. Becker, the VOA will be represented at ALUMINIUM 2022 in Düsseldorf. What can visitors to the trade show expect from you?
Alexa A. Becker: The expectations of the trade fair visitors are hopefully high, and after the last few years we are already looking forward to the personal exchange during this ambitious time. Give us a warm welcome in Hall 7a, Booth A05, and take the opportunity to join us in discussing the current challenges facing the surface finishing industry. As a trade association for this small but special industry, we have been representing the interests of our member companies in politics, the public and the media for six decades.
There must also be a lot of current issues to discuss?
Becker: Yes, almost every hour we receive news with an impact on the economy in Germany and in Europe: energy security and the affordability of energy in production, shortages of skilled workers, disrupted supply chains and the handling of resources, industrial transformation and global digitization as well as cybercrime - just to briefly touch on the wide range of issues that need to be mastered. Our members rightly expect us to advocate on their behalf, to keep a close eye on the political situation and to offer assistance with day-to-day issues in their companies. Therefore, it is important for us to get to know the expectations of the visitors to the trade show with regard to the surface finishing industry, to enter into a mutual exchange and to inform them about the service portfolio of our member companies. We are looking forward to it!
Alexa A. Becker is Managing Director of the Association for the surface finishing of aluminium (VOA).
The VOA is celebrating a round anniversary this year. Are you also planning something in this regard as part of the trade show?
Becker: Yes, of course! We are enriching the trade show with our unique project "stories of surfaces – 60 years of surface finishing of aluminium in fashionable pictures" – a showcase of the surface finishing industry. We proudly present it surface-loving, diverse, self-confident and inspiring for aluminium surfaces in all their facets. At the premiere of the fashion collection, which was created together with the Academy of Fashion & Design in Munich, our member companies showed no less than 13 outfits made of surface-finished aluminium to the more than 130 invited international guests from politics, business and the media. Be curious about some selected pieces of the collection!
We are enriching the trade show with our unique project "stories of surfaces – 60 years of surface finishing of aluminium in fashionable pictures"
The VOA will also be hosting a lecture as part of the Aluminium Conference. Can you briefly say something about the topic?
Becker: At the VOA, our member companies work together in the technical field in numerous project groups to bundle and further develop the industry's know-how. One of the project groups, under the leadership of Matthias Krämer, Head of Technology at the VOA, created the comprehensive "Anodization" and "Coating" document packages for process documentation.
The technically experienced experts created works that can be used in a practical way to analyze and document the quality of the productions within the company and to possibly raise individual potentials for improvement. The project group placed particular emphasis on the practical implementation of the specifications of the international quality marks QUALANOD for anodizing and QUALICOAT for coating, of which the VOA is the general licensee in Germany.
In a nutshell, visitors to the technical lecture can expect comprehensive information on the purpose of the document packages for the further development of the company.
Aluminium is regarded as a material that is excellently suited for a circular economy. To what extent is this an issue in the association or among its members?
Becker: We think about it almost every day! The basic material aluminium requires a surface for use in any area - whether for interior or exterior applications. The task here is to provide both primary and secondary aluminium, i.e. recycled material, with the properties required by the customer for the surface. The question here is whether both materials should be treated in the same way or whether the surface finishing industry is called upon to make further efforts to conjure up the same high-quality surface for the recycled material with a sustainable energy balance that is striving to reach the market as for primary aluminium.
And what is the current status here?
Becker: Together with numerous members, we launched the benchmark study "Surface finishing of aluminium from recycled material". In a defined procedure, the anodizing and coating companies carried out tests with secondary aluminium and then received their individual and anonymized overall results. In this way, each participating member received a well-founded assessment of the extent to which its processes are technically prepared for the refinement of recycled material and where it stands in comparison with the other study participants.
The exciting findings also flowed into our European umbrella association and the two general licensing organizations QUALANOD and QUALICOAT. At QUALICOAT, there is the QUALICOAT 3.0 project, which encourages progressive and sustainability-minded architects and façade builders to use the new mark for specific projects. But this is just the beginning of a big step to be taken in the construction industry internationally.
This is just the beginning of a big step to be taken in the construction industry internationally.
How much is your field subject to R&D? Can you name any exciting recent developments here? Or perhaps visions that are looming on the horizon?
Becker: Research and development are central topics in our association and, of course, also firmly rooted in each of our member companies. This is not necessarily reflected in large research departments, but in everyday operations. As an association, we take up many topics and develop practical solutions for the industry together with our members. This results in leaflets for daily work or the adaptation of specifications for the two international quality marks and for our own QUALISTRIP mark. Incidentally, the mark is awarded to companies that are active in the field of paint stripping of materials.
We are concerned with the political framework conditions for companies and here currently with the topics of energy security and the affordability of energy. We use digital media to inform member companies quickly and up to date about a great deal that affects their everyday lives. The indescribably good VOA network consists of numerous important companies in various sectors that support each other. Fortunately, the network creates the possibility to contact other member companies. On our homepage, for example, we offer the section "From members for members", where interesting information from different fields is posted internally for the member companies in a timely manner.
You mention the political framework conditions. To what extent does the VOA cooperate with political decision-makers?
Becker: We contribute the industry's know-how to legislative projects and also to the revision of official requirements, for example in the new version of the BREF STM (Best Available Techniques Reference Document Surface Treatment of Metals and Plastics) at German and EU level. The BREF documents contain both details on plant technology and specific requirements on resource consumption. For new plant approvals, for example under the German Federal Immission Control Act, the authorities take into account the requirements of the relevant BREF documents, which are valid for around ten to 15 years.
However, for our companies - as for many industries - the focus is currently very much on energy security and also affordability. Here, every company is challenged to further develop its concept and align it on the basis of R&D in order to secure its future.
And as far as the horizon is concerned?
Becker: On the horizon, I see the many challenges that need to be mastered together; but our association - and thus, of course, the industry - has been around for more than 60 years. In that time, there have been many ups and downs to overcome, both economically and politically. I am proud that the surface finishing industry is tackling the challenges. We will also be demonstrating this at ALUMINIUM.