Aluminum is among the most abundant elements on earth. Pure aluminum is so reactive that it reacts with the air that we breathe. However, when it is combined with other metals, into an alloy, aluminum is a very useful material with a wide-range of uses. In its natural form, aluminum is soft and pliable. This form of raw aluminum is sometimes directly processed into useful products, but in many cases, aluminum is alloyed with other materials. Aluminum alloys are extensively used in construction, aerospace, food services, sporting goods, and a host of other industries.
It is so useful because certain aluminum alloys have a very desirable strength-to-weight ratio. A small amount of aluminum can bear a large amount of weight relative to other metals. The type of alloy that is most useful depends on the specific application. Each mixture yields certain advantages and disadvantages.
Quick links to Aluminum Information
History of Aluminum
Ancient Roman texts speak of a material that looked like silver but was much lighter. We know now that they had accidentally come upon an aluminium alloy. At this time, aluminum oxide clays were also used in hide-tanning, first aid, and fireproofing.
Curiosity grew over the following years which led to Hans Christian Oersted's successful production of the first aluminium alloy. Aluminium became very popular but still rare because of the high production cost. The versatility and potential of this new metal led to a race to find a better way to make useful aluminum.
In 1887, Karl Josef Bayer developed a process that allows aluminum to be extracted from a common, natural, aluminum ore. This process is the same process from which almost all of the world's aluminum is produced.
Bayer's method lit the spark that changed the industry. Aluminum was cheap enough to be cost effective and was subsequently used for aircrafts, automotive parts, electrical wiring, and any application that requires high-strength, low-weight, metal.
After the war effort ended, aluminum was used for many household products. Aluminum washers and dryers became a standard in the American home.
The late 1950's saw the first two piece aluminium beverage cans with a pop top.
As the decades passed aluminum maintained its position as one of the most useful materials on earth. It was used to launch shuttles into space and to bring in the personal computer revolution.
Aluminum's Many Uses
- Aluminum and Building Construction
- In the early 20th century aluminium was used mostly for roofing, wall panels, and flashing. As the century marched on it became used for more structural purposes.
- New York's Empire State Building marks one of the first extensive use of aluminum in a building's construction. The spire, structure, entrances, elevator doors, decorative trim, and window panels all contain aluminium.
- As we move forward, aging concrete and steel structures will need to be reinforced or replaced. Aluminum's durability and cost-effectiveness make it a prime candidate to fix the decaying materials.
- Aluminum in the Aerospace Industry
- Aluminum has been used in the aerospace industry from the beginning. It was also a vital part of America's effort in World War 2. Most of America's fighter planes were made of this lightweight, cheap, and corrosion resistant material.
- Aluminum's corrosion resistance and strength-to-weight ratio make it ideal for aircraft manufacturing.
- Corrosion is a very dangerous and expensive problem, and aluminum can last for decades without any noticeable corrosion.
- Steel is a very high-strength option, but its weight is prohibitive. It can adversely affect the aircraft's aerodynamics. For this reason it is only used in landing gear and other parts where its strength is necessary.
- Aluminum in Food Service
- Aluminum is extensively used in food service. Though it is second to stainless steel in popularity, it is difficult to walk into a modern, commercial, kitchen without seeing many appliances and utensils that are made from aluminum.
- Part of aluminium allure in the food service industry is rust resistance. Its chemical makeup makes rust virtually impossible. Their versatility is another selling point for aluminum kitchenware.
- Aluminum is a good conductor of heat so it can reach a desired temperature quickly and stay that way for longer. This makes it ideal to wrap leftovers or serve anything from piping hot to frosty.
- Uses in Sporting Goods
- Sporting goods utilize anodized aluminum. Anodizing is a process that gives a metal a durable, corrosion resistant, finish that can be decorated. Aluminum's unique properties make it ideal for the process, though other non-ferrous metals are also good candidates.
- Anodized aluminum is used to make:
- Baseball/Softball Bats
- Golf Carts
- Fishing Boats
- Skates and Skateboards
- "Necessity is the mother of all invention."
- Aluminum alloys were born of the need for a more efficient alternative to steel. They have changed the world with their versatility. Its history is extensive and dates back centuries.
How Aluminium Is Made
Bayer's process is still the standard means of production for most of the industrial aluminum today. It is a complicated process involving mining, extracting, smelting, and casting.
The discovery of Bauxite made aluminum cost effective for mass production. Bauxite is a rock that was first discovered in 19th-century France. It is widely available and it is the primary ore from which aluminum is produced.
Though there are some deposits in Europe, most of today's bauxite comes from subtropical or tropical areas like:
- West Indies
- South America
Most of the expense in the production of aluminum is incurred during the extraction process. The first step in the process is to purify the bauxite into aluminum oxide, which is a white powder from which aluminum can be extracted.
The aluminum oxide must be made into the molten form so that electricity can pass through it in the next step of the process. To achieve this, it is dissolved into another compound that has a lower melting point. Once the aluminum compound is ready, electrolysis is used to extract useful aluminium metal. Further processing through smelting purifies the aluminum to around 99.97%. The aluminum oxide is almost always combined with other metals to form alloys with different properties and applications. One of the most frequently used is 6061 Aluminum, which contains magnesium and silicon. It is a general purpose metal that is wieldable, heat treatable and may be cold worked or annealed. 6061 Aluminum is used to make truck and marine components and pipelines. 7075 aluminum is very strong and corrosion resistant and alloyed with zinc. It has good fatigue strength, but because of this it is not wieldable. This aluminum alloy is not common, and therefore costs more than others. It is used mainly in aircraft construction, bicycle construction and to manufacture sports equipment for rock climbers and lacrosse players. Aluminum 1100 is a very soft alloy, and it is one of the most pure alloys. It has low strength and is therefore very wieldable and formable. It cannot be hardened by heat treatment and is used to make chemical equipment and railroad tank cars.
After extraction, the aluminum can be 'cast' in a process very similar to the process of casting iron. Aluminum casting is the method in which it is made into various shapes for its intended function, otherwise known as its aluminum profile.
It can also be extruded. Aluminum extrusion is a shaping method in which aluminum is forced into a specific shape by forcing it to flow through a shaped opening in a die. Go here to find a list of aluminum extruders:
Aluminum can be made into virtually any shape. Aluminum suppliers can use rolling to produce aluminum coils, plates, strips and sheets. During the rolling process, the aluminum becomes less brittle and more ductile. Rolling is also capable of creating very thin products. Roll forming can also produce hollow products like aluminum tubing and pipes by using specially shaped rollers. Stamp pressing, a process where flat aluminum sheets are shaped into parts by a die cavity and enormous amounts of pressure, is also used to form some aluminum shapes. In the extrusion method, aluminum billets are heated and pushed through a metal die under great pressure to create shapes such as bars and rods. Further fabrication of the aluminum supply can be done upon completion, such as cutting to length, drilling and machining. Forgings are created by hammering, pounding or squeezing the aluminum into parts. Casting involves two methods. One is sand casting, in which a temporary sand mold is created to make a part. The other is die casting, where the mold is permanent and is usually cast iron or steel. This is the most widely used method of aluminum forming, and it involves pouring molten aluminum directly into the mold. Aluminum supply can also be bent, made into a powder, joined by welding or milled, depending on the desired product. Aluminum plates and aluminum coils are used mostly for industrial applications. While other shapes are needed for household appliances and utensils. It also lends itself well to powder coating which gives it a tough, and decorative finish.
Having knowledge of how aluminum is very important, but it is more important to find a quality supplier that will provide a great product and great service.
Because of its highly-reactive nature, aluminum is almost always alloyed. Copper, zinc, magnesium, manganese, and silicon are all materials that are commonly alloyed with aluminum. Even a small amount of these elements produces a final product with superior characteristics than any of the substances by themselves.
- Copper in Aluminum Alloys
- Usually contain between 2%-10% copper, combined with mostly aluminum and other trace elements. The copper reduces strength and ductility which decreases corrosion resistance but limits its applications. Copper-aluminum alloys are typically used for military and aerospace applications.
- Aluminum Manganese Alloys
- Produce moderate strength metals. They do not lose strength at elevated temperatures but they are not among the strongest alloys. They are typically used for kitchen utensils as they do not lose their strength at high temperatures.
- Magnesium and Aluminum
- Produce one of the strongest alloys. It is used for structural applications frequently. They are used to make truck bodies, train cars, armored vehicles, boat vessels, and any other situation in which maximum strength and minimum weight is desired.
- Other Alloy Agents
- These are some of the most common alloy agents. Others include:
- Now that we have named a few of the common aluminum alloys let's delve deeper into their applications.
The Rise of Aluminum Suppliers
Aluminum's importance and the success of aluminum manufacturers have led to a larger pool of suppliers. Aluminum suppliers are companies that produce basic aluminum shapes like sheets, rods and plates for purchase by metalworking and manufacturing companies. Many countries have subsidized their aluminium industry. This has led to trouble for many American aluminum manufacturers.
There are not as many aluminum manufacturers in the United States as there were a decade ago. The present administration's desire to bring back jobs could help. Aluminum is heavily imported because of its importance.
Aluminum has become one of the most important substances in the world. It is lighter than steel, but very strong. This makes it an ideal material for many applications.
As industrial areas aged, the steel and concrete began to rot. These materials were never intended to last more than a generation or two. Aluminum emerged in the 19th century and became an exciting alternative to both steel and concrete. Aluminum tubing and aluminum plates are used to reinforce or replace aging structures.
Stainless steel and carbon steel are both stronger than aluminum but they tend to corrode. Aluminum's resistance to corrosion allows it to last longer.
Since aluminum does not naturally occur, its discovery came much later than other metals. Various compounds that displayed aluminum like characteristics were known to antiquity but the real metal was not understood until the 19th century.
A joint, but separate, effort of many individuals led to the discovery and added to the practicality of aluminum production. This set off a type of revolution in many industries. Stainless steel, copper, and a host of other materials were replaced with strong, durable, aluminum.
Where Aluminum Is Found
- 6061 Aluminum
- An aluminum alloy, the primary alloying components of which are aluminum, magnesium and silicon.
- 7075 Aluminum
- An alloy that is composed primarily of aluminum and zinc.
- A metallic element with the atomic number 13.
- Aircraft Aluminum
- The term used to describe aluminum alloys that are intended for use in the construction of aircraft components.
- Aluminum 1100
- An aluminum alloy that is characterized by its very high aluminum content compared to other alloys; 1100 aluminum can feature aluminum purity of 99.6%.
- Aluminum Bars
- And aluminum rods are solid, straight, uniform products of aluminum that can be extruded. These products can have cross-sections in a variety of shapes, from circular to triangular, square and more.
- Aluminum Coil
- And aluminum wire are aluminum products with uniform cross-sections that are available in several shapes. Products are most often supplied in coil form.
- Aluminum Foil
- Formed by rolling, and it is generally less than .2 mm thick. Aluminum foil is generally used in the packaging industry as well as in electrical applications.
- Aluminum Pipe
- Tubing made out of aluminum.
- Aluminum Plate
- Consists of rolled aluminum with a thickness greater than 6 mm. Plate is used as a component in bridges and buildings.
- Aluminum Powder
- Used in paints, explosives and chemical applications.
- Aluminum Profiles
- Extruded products of a uniform cross-section that are most often straight in length but can also be coiled.
- Aluminum Rods
- Cylindrical, solid aluminum shapes used in a wide variety of applications.
- Aluminum Sheet
- Formed from the rolling process, with a thickness of between .2 mm and 6 mm. Aluminum sheet is used in the construction and transport industries.
- Aluminum Strip
- A long sheet of metal with a length many times its width.
- Aluminum Suppliers
- Companies that sell minimally processed aluminum to metalworking, manufacturing and other operations.
- Aluminum Tubing
- A hollow aluminum product.
- Aluminum Wire
- Wire made of aluminum.
||Tensile Strength at Break (MPa)
||Tensile Strength, Yield (MPa)
||Modulus of Elasticity (ksi)
|All Aluminum Alloys
||0.700 - 1600
||1.24 - 750
||6.96 - 49600
|1000 Series Aluminum Alloy
||45.0 - 205
||10.0 - 165
||8990 - 10000
|2000 Series Aluminum Alloy
||175 - 550
||68.9 - 520
||10200 - 11300
|3000 Series Aluminum Alloy
||90.0 - 295
||31.0 - 285
||10000 - 10200
|4000 Series Aluminum Alloy
||145 - 427
||70.0 - 393
||11200 - 13100
|5000 Series Aluminum Alloy
||110 - 450
||40.0 - 435
||10000 - 10400
|6000 Series Aluminum Alloy
||89.6 - 478
||40.0 - 455
||9720 - 10200
|7000 Series Aluminum Alloy
||70.0 - 750
||69.0 - 725
||9720 - 10600
|Aluminum Casting Alloy
||110 - 485
||41.4 - 435
||41.4 - 435
||75.0 - 90.0
||20.0 - 50.0
||95.0 - 130
||75.0 - 103
||110 - 145
||95.0 - 117
||130 - 165
||115 - 138
||150 - 165
||150 - 152
|Aluminum 1100-H19 Foil
||75.0 - 105
||20.0 - 34.5
|Aluminum 6061-T4; 6061-T451
|Aluminum 6061-T6; 6061-T651
||228 - 276
||103 - 145
|Aluminum 7075-T6; 7075-T651
||462 - 572
||372 - 503
|Aluminum 7075-T73; 7075-T735x
||441 - 505
||338 - 435
|Aluminum 7075-T76; 7075-T7651
||490 - 503
||414 - 427
*These figures are guidelines based on industry research; they should not be presumed accurate under all circumstances and are not a substitute for certified measurements. The information is not to be interpreted as absolute material properties nor does it constitute a representation or warranty for which we assume legal liability. User shall determine suitability of the material for the intended use and assumes all risk and liability whatsoever in connection therewith.
Choosing the Right Aluminum Manufacturer
Aluminum manufacturing is a delicate process that requires extensive knowledge and years of practice. The right aluminum supply company is the key to making quality aluminum products.
The manufacturer knows the process inside and out. This allows them to make the most cost effective products. However, it is very important to be suspicious of aluminum suppliers that offer very low prices. The low price may be a good indication of poor quality.
Many aluminum products can literally be the difference between life and death. Many aircrafts are mainly high quality aluminum sheets. A low quality aluminum sheet may compromise the safety of the vehicle and put lives in danger.
Even in less critical applications, such as household, high-quality aluminum is still important. Poor aluminum makes poor products that reflect badly on a business. Though aluminum maintains its place as the most used metal, stainless steel is always an alternative for customers who have received poor aluminum household products.
Customer service should also be a factor in the selection of your aluminum supply company. Good companies stand by their products and are happy to rectify any issues that their customer's face. We provide a convenient list of companies we believe to be good manufacturers and suppliers of this metal at the top of this page.
- The combination of a metal and at least one other element.
- Alloying Element
- An element that is added to another metal in order to change its properties and characteristics.
- In other words, aluminum oxide.
- A reaction between crushed aluminum and a metal oxide, which produces a large amount of heat and creates a metal.
- Aluminum Dross
- A byproduct of aluminum melting that contains impurities and is often reused in secondary aluminum production.
- The process of treating an aluminum alloy with heat in order to soften it.
- The process of coating a material with a protective film through electrolysis.
- Bayer Process
- The method that is used to extract alumina from bauxite ore.
- The main ore from which aluminum is extracted using the Bayer process.
- Bend Test
- A test that determines the toughness of a metal through bending.
- A cast, cylindrical piece of aluminum that is used to make extrusions.
- A piece of metal that is cut or formed into a shape to prepare for further processing.
- The process of pouring molten aluminum into a mold shaped like the final product.
- A metal’s ability to conduct electricity. Aluminum is a good conductor and therefore is often used in wires.
- The process of reducing the level of hydrogen in molten aluminum.
- A metal’s ability to deform elastically and plastically without breaking.
- The process of deforming solid aluminum by forcing a cylindrical billet through a die to create a product with a consistent cross-section.
- The process of deforming solid aluminum into a product by hammering or squeezing it into a die.
- A measure of a metal’s ease of being deformed.
- A place that melts and casts metals into various shapes.
- Hall-Heroult Process
- The post-Bayer process in which the aluminum oxide becomes aluminum metal.
- Heat Treatment
- The process of using heat to alter the properties of aluminum.
- A metal’s ability to reflect heat, radar and radio waves. Aluminum is a good reflector and thus is used in radio antennae.
- The process of squeezing aluminum between two rollers to create a flat plate, sheet or foil.
- The process by which molten aluminum is produced from alumina.
- Thermal Conductivity
- A metal’s ability to carry heat. Aluminum is the most efficient at this of all the common metals.