Kobe Steel is to increase the heat treatment equipment and surface treatment equipment at its Moka Plant in Moka, Tochigi Prefecture, to meet growing demand for automotive aluminium panel material in Japan.

Total investment is projected to reach around JPY20bn (US$175m) and construction is anticipated to begin within the current fiscal year (ending March, 2018). The new equipment, to have a capacity of 100,000 tons per year, is expected to start in January, 2020.

As environmental regulations become stricter worldwide, the need to reduce the weight of car bodies is increasing and consequently demand for aluminium panel material is projected to grow considerably.

Kobe Steel estimates current demand in Japan and other Asian markets, excluding China, of around 40,000 tons per year will increase to more than 300,000 tons in 2025.

Anticipating  growing demand for aluminium panel material, Kobe Steel has been undertaking technology development since the 1980s in such areas as materials development, analysis, design, forming and joining.

In China, Kobe Steel established Kobelco Automotive Aluminium Rolled Products (China) to produce aluminium panel material. Operations started in January last year.