Designing is a bit like coaching a football team: everyone else has an opinion about your work. Well at the risk of joining the crowd of “helpers” we’d like to make a suggestion. For your next project, consider using aluminum extrusion to cut manufacturing costs and improve functionality.

A Ubiquitous Material

Extrusion is the “toothpaste tube” process. Forcing a metal billet through a die creates a length of uniform cross-section material. There’s almost no limit to the range of sections that can be extruded, and extruded section finds its way into many different products. Display cabinets, window frames, lighting fixtures and heat sinks are just a few.

8 Reasons to Use Aluminum Extrusion

Growing up, most of us were taught not to do something just because everyone else was doing it. That piece of parental advice doesn’t really apply to design work though. When so many designers are using extrusion it’s worth asking why. Here are eight of the biggest reasons.

1. Lightweight

At about 1/3rd the density of steel, aluminum is an excellent choice in any motion-related application. Less weight means less inertia, which translates to energy savings and higher speeds. And the benefit of extruded section is that it puts material only where it’s needed, potentially reducing weight further.

2. Surprisingly strong

Aluminum has a higher strength-to-weight ratio than many other materials. For example, 6061-T6 grade aluminum is nearly four times the strength of 304 stainless, and extrusion maximizes stiffness while minimizing weight. That makes it a good choice in load-bearing applications – like aircraft!

3. Won’t corrode

Like iron, aluminum loves oxygen, but with a big difference. Iron oxide – rust – flakes away but aluminum oxide just forms a protective film over the surface. That can save on the expense of coating processes and eliminates maintenance.

4. Easy to work

Most grades of aluminum machine easily. You can cut aluminum extrusion to length with a hacksaw and drill holes with your cordless DeWALT. If you’re designing a frame or display and don’t know exactly where the mounting holes should go, leave it to the installation crew!

5. Eliminates welding

Making consistently good welds takes skill and experience, plus you’ll often need fixtures and may have to sacrifice some pieces for practice. In contrast, a single piece of aluminum extrusion can replace multiple separate pieces that would otherwise be welded together. If you’re really clever you’ll even design sections that interlock for easy assembly!

6. Appearance

Extruded aluminum can be painted, plated, polished and even textured. And let’s not overlook anodizing. This gives the designer a broader pallet of finishes to choose from than is possible with other materials.

7. Reuse and recycle

If you’ve ever been drawn into a can collection drive you’ll know there’s a market for scrap aluminum. That means when your product reaches the end of it’s life there are no disposal headaches. In fact quite the opposite: it will have some value. Don’t overlook either the option of just disassembling a product made from extruded section and putting the pieces to work in a different way.

7. Inexpensive tooling

When designers think about using extruded aluminum they’ll often restrict themselves to the shapes available in catalogs of standard products. That can be a missed opportunity for design optimization, and it’s a pity because tooling for custom extrusion is surprisingly inexpensive.

Word to the Wise

Design is hard and we’re not telling you how to do your job. Then again, we know a bit about metal fabrication. That’s why it seems important to list the advantages to aluminum extrusion.