Telecom Market 5G Speeds up Demand for Metal Foundries
Super-fast 5G-networks are arriving on our phones, which offers a win for foundries. The metal industry is now rushing to cast the housing which protects 5G base-stations, a potential growth market. Yet this new demand also requires different die casting methods and bigger machines.
Mobile internet networks are speeding up, and at the forefront of that push is 5G. The successor to 4G networks promises speeds that are 10 times faster than those of its predecessor. On top of that, 5G hopes to not only connect smartphones, but also new applications, such as IoT-sensors, autonomous cars and smart cities.
Some foundries are using the widespread expansion of this new generation of networks to grow their business. The main 5G component that metal foundries cast are the housing units for the base-stations. These units, often made from aluminum, fulfill a key part in 5G-networks as they house and protect the antennas and networking equipment necessary for connecting users to the wider internet. You might have seen these base-stations on the tops of roofs, or at the side of highways. From there they connect smartphones and other devices with the internet.
The amount of 5G base-stations is rapidly expanding across the world. China, a frontrunner in 5G, ended the first quarter of 2021 with 819,000 5G base-stations. The total market for 5G base-stations will see a compound annual growth rate of 37,6 % from 2020 to 2027 according to Market Research Future. All these base-stations in turn need to be provided with housing.
5G Housings Require Bigger Die Casting Machines
Such housing was already necessary for previous generations of mobile networks, such as 4G. Yet 5G comes with new requirements for metal foundries and the parts they cast. 5G base-stations are bigger, more complex and can consume more energy than their 4G counterparts. 5G base-station housing will also need to be able to resist higher temperatures than previous generations of housing.
This presents new challenges for the materials and particularly the machinery used by metal foundries. To seize the opportunities of the 5G era and to manufacture 5G communication base station structural parts, the Chinese die casting manufacturer Zhuhai Runxingtai Electrical Equipment has purchased Yizumi 4000T automatic die casting cell from Guangdong Yizumi Precision Machinery back in 2019. It was the largest die casting cell at Runxingtai to date. While the COVID19 pandemic slowed down numerous industries, the expansion of 5G, on the other hand, was additionally accelerated. To meet the increased demand for network coverage for hospital wards and mobile hospitals, for example, communication station vendors in China ramped up production. Consequently, demand for the 5G base station housings and shielding covers also increased, prompting Jiansheng Technology to invest in 3000T and 3500T die casting production lines from Yizumi in early 2020.
The resulting competition has since brought larger and larger machines to light. The South-Korean company Glovitech, which specializes in telecom equipment, for example introduced a 6000 ton cold chamber die casting machine in their Vietnamese plant in March of 2021. This made it the largest tonnage model made by LK Group, who built the machine. FAIST Precision Suzhou, another producer of 5G base-station housing, equally upgraded their die casting machines at the end of 2020 to deal with the growing 5G demand, adopting the FRECH GDK3200T, a German machine built by Oskar Frech.
Semi-solid Casting as Preferred Method
5G is also driving new casting techniques. Semi-solid casting for example is becoming more popular for 5G housing. This technique places part of the melt in a solid state, while the other part remains liquid. By shearing the melt faster, less force is then needed. Rio Tinto and Comptech partnered in May of 2021 to deliver a new generation of aluminum alloys specifically designed for Rheocasting, a sub-method of semi-solid casting. In this way they are responding to market demand from industries like telecom but also automotive, which requires bigger machines and different die casting methods for the production of electric vehicles.
5G offers metal foundries a chance to secure a slice of the billion-dollar telecom market. This will in turn, though, require them to invest in bigger machinery and new die casting methods. This added investment might, however, pay off handsomely as the telecom market is growing fast because of expanding 5G networks, and the newer and bigger die casting methods are also useful for markets such as automotive.