How Strong Is Aluminum?
Aluminum has a lot of amazing features. It’s famous for being extremely lightweight and has a great deal of flexibility, making it adaptable to any number of applications. It’s 100 percent recyclable, and thus one of the most sustainable metals we have at our disposal. It has advantages when it comes to thermal conductivity, UV radiation resistance, electrical conductivity and hygiene. Aluminum is well known for its excellent levels of corrosion resistance. One thing that doesn’t immediately come to mind when people think about aluminum is how strong it is.
This is a definite mistake. While aluminum may not be the strongest metal available, when you consider its overall strength-to-weight ratio, it has very few competitors. Thanks to the latest advances in aluminum alloys, this natural strength can be enhanced and perfected for specific applications. Aluminum can be found in some of the strongest and most durable products you’ll find anywhere, from the toughest automobiles to the most advanced aerospace vehicles.
What makes aluminum so strong?
Most people don’t realize this, but by mass, aluminum is the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, following only oxygen and silicon. However, because of its naturally reactive chemical makeup, it is rarely found in its native form. Instead, it normally combines with other elements to create aluminum-based minerals, the most common of which are alum and bauxite. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the commercialization of aluminum became viable.
At first glance, it wouldn’t seem that aluminum would be as strong as it is. In its purest form it is quite soft. However, its ability to be combined with other metals, such as silicon, magnesium, zinc, or copper to form various alloys, is what has made aluminum so strong that in some cases it can even rival steel. Yet it is much lighter than steel at the same time, so aluminum has one of the highest strength-to-weight ratios available to manufacturers.
Aluminum also remains quite formable, making it a perfect material for a whole range of applications. It can be found in anything from paper-thin aluminum foil to giant architectural structures. It all boils down to what alloying elements are added to aluminum.
What are the strongest aluminum alloys?
Historically, aluminum alloys have been divided into different series based on what alloying materials they contain. The 3xxx series is alloyed with manganese while the 5xxx contains magnesium. While each series generally exhibits similar characteristics, broadly speaking, even two alloys that are close together in number might be quite distinct and not suitable to the same types of applications.
Any list of the strongest aluminums will include 2024, which is among the most common high strength alloys. It is famous for its excellent combination of high strength and excellent fatigue resistance. Its corrosion resistance is poor, so it is usually coupled with an anodized finish or in clad form.
6061 is a particularly versatile alloy that exhibits excellent strength, again making it extremely popular. It exhibits universal performance advantages from high corrosion resistance to good workability, while also being relatively easy to weld. 6063 is also known for its tremendous strength, so much so that it has become known as an architectural alloy.
Among the commonly used aluminum alloys, 7075 is one of the strongest. It is so commonly found in the aerospace industry that it is often referred to as aircraft aluminum. With zinc as its primary alloying agent, this aluminum displays excellent mechanical properties in addition to its amazing strength to weight ratio, such as good ductility, toughness, corrosion resistance and fatigue resistance. It is often used in highly stressed structural applications.
Another benefit of aluminum is that alloys can often be processed to make them even stronger. For example, hot rolling and cold rolling are two options for strengthening an aluminum alloy. Another technique involves heat-treating followed by rapid cooling, which will freeze the atoms in place. With cold working, the movement of atoms at the molecular level is also restricted, another way of strengthening the material.
What are some high strength applications that feature aluminum?
When it comes to high strength applications that rely on aluminum solutions, the first factor to keep in mind is whether weight is a consideration. Any industry that needs to reduce weight in products, such as aerospace, will likely consider aluminum. For instance, the Boeing 747-400 is made up of 147,000 pounds of high-strength aluminum.
In the same vein, the modern automobile consists of a significant amount of aluminum. Its light weight makes it possible to reduce fuel consumption, while it’s high strength and durability ensure there is no sacrifice of safety.
Another popular choice for high strength aluminum is in architecture. The modern skyscraper typically incorporates a great deal of aluminum. While it is extremely strong, it also offers the ability to create the large glass spans that are a signature of modern architecture. Aluminum also has the durability and aesthetic appeal essential for a structure to stand the test of time.
This is obviously just a partial list, but hopefully it’s enough to convince you that aluminum should be considered when you have an application that requires a high degree of strength.
Your Technical Resource Partner
Whether you are more concerned with strength, weight, or durability (or all three!) aluminum has everything you are looking for. At Clinton Aluminum, we have the expertise and resources to make sure you get the right material for your job. That’s because our goal is to be more than just a metal supplier, but to be a true partner to our customers and a natural extension of their business. Before you make a final purchasing decision, talk to one of our experts and make sure you’ve got all your bases covered.
At Clinton, our staff averages nearly 13 years of working experience with the company, meaning they have a solid working knowledge of aluminum and many of its applications. Contact us today to speak with one of our knowledgeable and friendly customer service representatives.