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Authored by Leslie Gordon, leslie.gordon@penton.com
U. S. Magnesium LLC, www.usmagnesium.com

Antidumping tariffs on imported magnesium alloys were in the news recently when some industry observers complained the duties undercut the U. S. die-casting industry. But the claims haven’t helped the industry — merely put it in a negative and counterproductive light, says Director of Marketing at U. S. Magnesium Susan Slade. “Unsuccessful die casters want to blame everything on the magnesium tariffs,” she says. “However, from our perspective, the duties have not reduced U. S. die-casting demand.”

Antidumping tariffs imposed by Washington on foreign producers are supposed to prevent unfair trade practices. Antidumping duties on imported magnesium actually go back to the late 1990s, so they are not new, says Slade. “In addition to placing duties on magnesium from Russia and China, the International Trade Commission (ITC) has put tariffs on dumped products across-the-board,” she says. “Products include silicon metal, rubber tires, and aluminum extrusions coming into the U. S. Every five years, the ITC holds ‘sunset reviews’ to determine if those orders should stand.”

The Salt Lake City producer’s position is that antidumping orders on magnesium should stay in place, says Slade. “The opposition comprises Russian suppliers and the North American Die Casters Association’s magnesium group,” she says. “Over the last five years, since the orders have been in place, the Dept. of Commerce has determined that magnesium is being dumped at margins ranging all the way up to 111% on Chinese materials and 43% on Russian products.”

NADCA’s magnesium group represents only about 10% of the U. S. (not North American) die-casting volume, says Slade. From U. S. Magnesium’s perspective, companies in this group produce a fairly narrow range of components. “They merely substitute a magnesium component for what was initially an aluminum part,” she says. “But processors versed in sophisticated design methods can exploit more of magnesium’s inherent benefits than just its light weight. These processors are currently highly successful.”

For example, magnesium die casting lets processors consolidate and combine components. “Innovative companies are replacing steel assemblies with a magnesium die casting for a lighter part that eliminates the squeaks and rattles of fabricated parts,” says Slade. “Consider, for instance, the Lincoln MKT lift gate, a 17-lb casting that replaces six steel stampings. GM used magnesium instrument panels to replace a number of fabricated steel stampings. In the last five years, many other OEMs have also started using magnesium instrument panels on vehicles assembled in the U. S., many of which are also cast here. Examples include Chrysler, BMW, and Mercedes. Success for magnesium has also arisen in automotive seating. Ford uses magnesium castings in risers and seat backs.” And a brand-new magnesium application is successfully competing against steel, says Slade. “The Chevrolet Volt has a 22-lb single-piece casting for a battery tray, cast in the U. S., which provides a 50% weight savings compared to steel,” she says.

The real volume for die casting is in automotive parts, so the way auto industry goes dictates the direction of U. S. die casting, says Slade. “The entire die-casting industry, including aluminum and zinc, has suffered with reduced North American auto production over the past five years,” she says. “Interestingly, magnesium casting has suffered even where there are no tariffs. There used to be three magnesium die casters in Canada, which had access to dumped magnesium imports. But, even so, all three companies filed for financial protection in 2008 and 2009. Since then, some Canadian business came to the U. S. and three new magnesium die casters have opened here.”

Even with the magnesium antidumping tariffs in place, there are plenty of developments in the U. S. outside of the die-casting arena where magnesium is used as a raw material, says Slade. “For instance, magnesium is used in metal reduction to produce titanium, beryllium, and zirconium,” she says. “Allegheny Technologies Inc. just spent over $500 million to build a titanium sponge plant in Utah. Titanium sponge is a porous form of titanium created during the first stage of processing. Magnesium reduces titanium chloride to make titanium sponge, which should help bolster the biggest consumer of titanium — the aerospace industry.”

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.