Novelis has marked the start-up of a new laser-cutting centre for aluminium automotive sheet at its rolling mill in Sierre, Switzerland, with the announcement of a first order for DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes-Benz C-class sedan.

Laser-cut, shaped aluminium sheets for the production of the front fender on the redesigned C-class are being supplied from Sierre to DaimlerChrysler's tier one supplier's stamping plant at East London in South Africa. Novelis also supplies sheet, in coil form, for C-class models produced at the automaker's Sindelfingen, Bremen and Hamburg plants in Germany.

The Sierre rolling mill is claimed to be one of the world's most advanced facilities for the production of aluminium automotive sheet.

Novelis invested EUR3.3m ($US4.3m) in the new line at Sierre, which features a fully-automated, high-speed laser system for producing tailored shapes that its customers then stamp, or press, into finished automotive body panels.  The shaped sheets approximate the outline of the finished panel, thereby reducing excess trim material.

Novelis operates a similar laser centre at its Nachterstedt plant in Germany and also supplies aluminium blanks in North America. It claims to be the only company capable of producing high-performance aluminium automotive sheet in both Europe and North America and is also a leading supplier of aluminium sheet for a number of other Mercedes-Benz vehicles, including the E- and S-class.

DaimlerChrysler expects the new C-class to appear in European showrooms at the end of March and in North America in the following weeks. The previous line was one of the most popular in the Mercedes-Benz range, with sales over 2m units.