Aluminum: The Lightweight Material That Delivers Heavyweight Performance

Aluminum: The Lightweight Material That Delivers Heavyweight Performance

Published in Aluminum
06/02/2021

Aluminum is the metal of choice for many consumer and industrial applications. Global demand for aluminum, forecasted to exceed 80 million tonnes by 2023, continues to grow.

While aluminum has many properties that make it attractive for manufacturers, its versatility may be the most compelling. It can be cast, formed, extruded and machined, or strengthened by adding metals like copper, zinc, and magnesium. As a result, aluminum is a mainstay for applications ranging from construction to transportation to consumer products.

The Benefits of Aluminum Alloys

While different aluminum alloys possess varying properties, they all share similar characteristics that make them a compelling choice for many industrial and commercial applications. These characteristics include:

Flexible. As a more malleable metal, aluminum can be shaped through rolling, casting, or other metalworking processes, providing engineers and builders with virtually unlimited design options.

Lightweight. With a density of roughly 30% of most carbon steel products, a little aluminum goes a long way. Manufacturers can purchase considerably more linear feet of aluminum compared to the same weight of material in a carbon steel product.

Strength-To-Weight Ratio. Alloyed aluminum can be as strong as steel while weighing only a third as much. This strength-to-weight performance is especially valuable in transportation and aeronautical applications.

Corrosion Resistant. Aluminum produces a natural oxide coating that protects it from corrosion and other environmental factors. While aluminum alloys are less resistant than pure aluminum, they can be surface treated (e.g., anodizing or painting) to increase durability.

Highly Conductive. Aluminum is a superior electrical conductor — almost twice as good as copper (by weight) — and is the preferred choice for power transmission lines. Aluminum also conducts heat well and is used as a heat sink in many applications.

Non-Toxic. Aluminum products are widely used in the food, beverage, and pharmaceutical industries for packaging and equipment because of their non-toxic properties.

Transforming Industrial Design

Virtually all manufacturing sectors use aluminum products in some form. However, aluminum alloys are particularly suited for industries looking to design or re-engineer products with greater strength and less weight. These include:

Architecture and Construction

Almost 25% of all aluminum produced globally is used in the construction industry. Light, strong, corrosion-resistant, and easy to shape, aluminum sheet is a popular material for engineers, architects, and designers involved in building construction.

Aluminum has a variety of exterior building applications. For example, it’s often used in roof construction, window frames, or to support the glass facings of office buildings and towers.

For building interiors, builders use aluminum to create ‘architectural finishes’ that enhance the appearance of surfaces like floors, ceilings, or slab walls. Aluminum is often paired with stainless steel to add structural integrity and decorative elements. For these pairings, many designers request Diversified Ulbrich’s XL Blend “S” stainless steel. Blend “S” is an innovative finish that’s less reflective, simplifies surface damage repairs, and requires less cleaning and maintenance than traditional stainless steel.

Transportation and Mass Transit

The transportation industry is the largest market for aluminum in North America, consuming an estimated 35% of overall production. Originally a staple of the aerospace industry, aluminum is now used extensively in the production of automobiles, trucks, trains, and ships.

By replacing steel components with high-strength, lightweight aluminum parts, transportation manufacturers see many benefits, including:

Reduced Fuel Consumption. Reducing vehicle weight can result in dramatic fuel cost savings. Extensive use of aluminum can lower vehicle weights by over 20%, and for every 100 kg of weight reduction, automobiles can reduce fuel consumption by an estimated 0.3 to 0.6 litres per 100 km.

Recyclable. Aluminum can be recycled many times without a loss in quality. With a high scrap value, over 95% of aluminum from automobiles is harvested and recycled, reducing demand for raw materials.

Environmentally Friendly. Aluminum is used to construct lightweight body components for high-speed trains, buses, and other public transportation platforms. The shipping industry is also exploring ways to expand aluminum use in large ferries, cargo ships, and other seagoing vessels. Aside from their strength and lightweight properties, some aluminum alloys (like 5083 and 5086) are highly resistant to corrosion and well-suited to saltwater applications.

Medical and Healthcare

Medical and hospital equipment are subject to demanding safety and operational requirements. Aluminum’s high strength-to-weight ratio makes it an ideal fit for many of these demands.

Aluminum’s extreme formability also offers advantages, as it can be fabricated to exact specifications. As a result, manufacturers often specify biocompatible aluminum alloys (like anodized 6061 or 3003) for medical devices, including custom-fit therapeutic and prosthetic equipment.

Other medical uses for aluminum range from specialized surgical and trauma devices to more common hospital equipment like trays and bedpans.

Diversified Ulbrich — Your Choice for Aluminum

At Diversified Ulbrich, our ‘customer first’ approach means you’ll get the materials that you need when you need them. We offer a full line of aluminum products, from sheets, coils, tubes, and more, available in a wide range of alloy materials.

From real-time quotes to same-day shipping, our team is committed to keeping you in production. We maintain over 150,000 square feet of warehouse and production space in Toronto and Montreal, with more than 20,000 products in stock. And, with a full fleet of trucks and tractor-trailers for expedited deliveries, we’ll quickly get your order on the road and to your door.

Learn more about our aluminum product lines.

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