Aluminum is a common choice for fabrication for a variety of reasons. Manufacturers and product developers have been using aluminum for the last century, making it relatively new in terms of industrial production. If you’ve ever wondered why it’s such a popular choice, here is everything you wanted to know about aluminum and aluminum fabrication.
The Properties of Aluminum
One of the biggest benefits of fabricating with aluminum is its relative softness and light weight. In fact, it weighs in at only one-third the weight of stainless steel and has a high strength-to-weight ratio. That means it is very strong relative to its weight.
Aluminum is also naturally resistant to corrosion and non-toxic. These properties make it ideal for food preparation machinery and in areas where dry conditions are not guaranteed. Aluminum is also highly reflective and resistant to combustion, making it the most popular choice for lighting as well.
Are there Drawbacks to Aluminum?
With so many benefits, it can seem like aluminum is the perfect fabrication material. On the other hand, a couple of its benefits can make this metal the wrong choice in certain situations. For example, the softness that makes aluminum easy to work with can also make it less sturdy for finished products.
Aluminum also conducts heat easily, making it easier to melt than other metals. This can make it difficult for inexperienced welders to work with while also making it a poor choice in high-temperature situations.
What About Alloys?
An alloyed metal is one that’s been processed to improve its properties by adding very small amounts of other metallic elements into it. There are seven main aluminum alloys that are used in manufacturing. Here is a quick review of the three most commonly used in fabrication processes:
- Manganese Alloys. This aluminum alloy is considered to be easy to form. It is used most often in cookware, a variety of vehicle types, and in the heat exchangers found in power plants.
- Magnesium Alloys. Because this alloy is strong under tension while still remaining relatively easy to form, it is found in broad metal fabrication applications. Some of the most common include the transportation industry and bridge-building.
- Magnesium and Silicone. This mix is used predominantly in extrusions and in construction components. Angles, beams, and tubes are commonly made from this aluminum alloy.
Copper and zinc are other common materials used in making aluminum alloys. The balance of materials is often used to produce aluminum that is stronger than pure aluminum while retaining many of its lightweight, corrosion-resistance features. Aluminum alloys are very common when weight matters, including in aircraft, aerospace, and sporting equipment applications.
Aluminum Fun Facts
- Aluminum is the most abundant metal on the planet, making it a cost-effective option for many projects. However, it does not occur naturally as a pure metal. Because it is only found in compounds, it took us until 1824 to discover this metal.
- In the U.K. and Europe, it’s usually spelled “aluminium,” and pronounced slightly differently than we’re used to hearing in the United States.
- Aluminum helped make modern flight possible. In fact, the Wright brothers used aluminum in the construction of their biplane’s engine. No manufacturer could build them one with enough horsepower that was also light enough for flight.
- Aluminum is highly recyclable. In fact, almost 75 percent of all the aluminum that has ever been made is still in use due to recycling. Plus, recycling aluminum only uses 5 percent of the energy required to extract it in the first place. That means that recycled aluminum is far more environmentally friendly than newly produced material.
- When ground to a fine powder, aluminum is highly combustible. This thermal conductivity makes it a popular choice when designing fireworks with white or silver colors. The solid rocket boosters found on the space shuttle also use aluminum for fuel.
- When aluminum was first discovered, it was considered to be more precious than gold. Napoleon was known to save his aluminum cutlery for his most honorable guests and made everyone else use inferior gold or silver implements.
Choosing the Right Materials
Aluminum is an excellent choice for a wide variety of applications. Technology such as laser cutting has made precise aluminum fabrication easier and more efficient than ever before. When choosing materials for sheet metal fabrication services, a number of factors must be considered. When it’s appropriate for your application, choosing aluminum will be the right choice for your budget and the planet.