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Aluminum Alloy Uses in Engineering

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Few materials have revolutionized such a vast number of industries as aluminum. Dating back to the late 19th century when the process for smelting aluminum was first developed, allowing for its large-scale production, this element has become an increasing part of our everyday lives, whether we are aware of it or not. From aviation to automobiles, to digital technology, aluminum alloys have allowed for faster production processes using cheaper and more flexible materials. However, aluminum’s impact on engineering is almost certainly unmatched.

What Are The Advantages Of Aluminum?

Over the past century, aluminum has undergone a number of advancements, in particular with regards to the diversification of alloys that have allowed the metal to be used in a wide range of applications. These improvements have accentuated the properties of aluminum that have made it such a desirable material among manufacturers.

First of all, aluminum is famous for being lightweight yet still extremely strong. While most people assume that steel is stronger than aluminum, the truth is that certain aluminum alloys can match steel in terms of strength. Furthermore, aluminum has an outstanding strength-to-weight ratio, one of the reasons that it has been so popular in industries such as aerospace. But aluminum’s lightweight nature has also been a huge factor in many of the most famous engineering structures, such as modern skyscrapers, which, for instance, rely on aluminum alloys to create the huge glass spans that characterize many such buildings.

Another of the major benefits of aluminum is its extreme corrosion resistance. Aluminum alloys provide strong resistance to atmospheric corrosion in many different environmental settings. This is particularly useful for large structures that must maintain their integrity over time and for marine applications, where seawater is a constant concern. Aluminum structures and equipment have a longer lifespan and require less maintenance than many competing materials.

One more advantageous property of aluminum is its high conductivity, both in terms of electrical and thermal. Unalloyed aluminum has about 60% the conductivity of copper, making it a great option for any engineering application that requires high conductivity. For instance, it is widely deployed in products and structures for which heat exchange is necessary.

Aluminum also has an advantage due to its tremendous formability. Aluminum is easy to work with and can be made into nearly every conceivable shape. This makes it highly desirable for architectural structures. Because it is so convenient to work with, aluminum alloys also save both time and money for engineers.

Other breakout attributes of aluminum that make it popular for engineering applications include its recyclability, its ability to take surface treatments, and its durability. Combine all of these properties, and even though aluminum might at first seem more expensive than other options, the cost savings over the entire production process can be substantial.

What Types Of Engineering Is Aluminum Used For?

There are many types of engineering, and nearly all of them benefit from aluminum in some way. Foremost, for buildings and other structures, aluminum has been an important material for more than a century.

One of the first uses of aluminum was in the capstone of the Washington Monument. At the time of its construction, aluminum was still a rare and expensive element. As it becomes more popular, engineers became increasingly aware of its many benefits, and its use helped to transform the building industry.

The early skyscrapers of the 20th century, including the Empire State Building, relied on aluminum for many different features, such as window frames, interior structures, and the iconic spire. As previously mentioned, the modern skyscraper is largely dependent on aluminum. The material’s tremendous strength-to-weight ratio makes it possible to support the large glass spans that are symbolic of modern buildings, including major airports and train stations.

Electrical engineers also rely on aluminum alloys for many applications. For example, while it takes an aluminum wire that is 1.5 times wider than copper wire to pass the same amount of electricity, the aluminum wire will be two times lighter, giving aluminum the advantage. This is why overhead electrical wires are entirely made out of aluminum.

There are many other conductivity applications well suited to aluminum. As energy efficiency becomes more and more important, more engineers are turning to aluminum. This includes for conductors, electronic components such as capacitors and antennae, and radars.

Mechanical engineering also has great need of aluminum. Complicated machines with numerous moving parts, including automated equipment and robots, use aluminum for its light weight and formability. Many engineers turn to aluminum for its mold-making ability, another benefit of its ability to take all variety of shapes.

What Are Some Of The Engineering Applications For Aluminum?

In terms of structural engineering, aluminum has grown to become an essential material. Today, frequent applications in this area include both extruded and welded parts. Specific examples include long-span roof systems, transmission towers, structures that require multiple moving parts, and structures in extreme environments.

In the field of electrical engineering, while aluminum wiring has been a staple for many years, more and more manufacturers are turning to aluminum for a variety of other applications. This includes conductors, cage motors, microelectronics, transformers, and low-voltage motors.

When it comes to mechanical engineering, there are too many applications to list them all.  But thanks to the great diversity of aluminum alloys, this is a burgeoning field, with new advancements all the time. Specific applications include robotics, seawater desalination, thermal conductors, HVAC exchangers, and a whole host of molds.

Summary

Aluminum alloys, thanks to constant advances, are a durable, adaptable, and high-quality option for your engineering needs. No matter what industry or application, aluminum makes financial sense thanks to its flexibility and other premier properties that aren’t offered by any other material, at least not in the same combination.

At Clinton Aluminum, we believe in the importance of using the right material for the job. We work with our customers to choose just the correct alloy for every particular application. Contact one of our friendly customer service representatives today to learn what aluminum alloy is right for you.

Resources: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233554423_Structural_Applications_of_Alu

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