The human mind isn’t good with big numbers. We’re okay with three point throws and going for two after a touchdown but it’s hard to grasp millions. When we read that the aluminum extrusion market is expected to reach 24 million tons by 2019 it didn’t convey a lot, until we worked out how much aluminum that really is.
A Whole Lot of Extrusion
Solid aluminum weighs around 168 lbs/cubic foot. That means a typical house, made entirely of aluminum, would weigh about 2,100 tons! So 24 million tons would be nearly 12,000 homes!
But hold on a moment. That’s solid aluminum. The whole point of extrusion is that it’s light but strong. Forming it into complex sections creates structural elements that carry a lot of weight but themselves weigh next to nothing. So we started to wonder, how many homes would occupy the same volume as 24 million tons of aluminum section? And we also began to ask, where will all this extrusion be used?
A little digging into uses for extrusion, (yes that’s what we do on our days off!) revealed some interesting numbers. The biggest market is building and construction. Frames for windows and doors, curtain wall components and store fronts use a lot of aluminum extrusion. Then there’s frame for solar panels. This is an area that’s grown fast recently: all those sheets of photovoltaic silicon need lightweight frames to hold them in place on rooftops.
Automotive is another industry sector that uses a lot of aluminum. There’s a lot of talk about aluminum sheet applications like in the Ford F-150 pickup, but extrusion is really big too. Trailers and semi-trailers use a lot because people who use those are very focused on weight reduction. Switching from steel to aluminum cuts operating costs because more payload is available for hauling and fuel consumption improves.
Trailers aren’t the only use either. A whole host of vehicles use aluminum extrusion, particularly RVs and campers. And as with trucks, the big driver is weight saving, but aluminum has other benefits too.
Unlike steel, aluminum won’t rust away. Yes, it oxidizes and loses its shine but once that’s taken place corrosion stops. So while you might coat aluminum to create a particular appearance it’s not generally needed for protection. If a reflective finish is wanted, aluminum polishes up really well. Steel on the other hand, would need plating.
When you start looking, uses for aluminum extrusion are everywhere. Factories are a great example. Extrusion is used for machine guarding because it’s light, inexpensive, easy to work with, and looks good. It’s used more and more in applications that once employed wood. Objects like workbenches and carts are now usually made from aluminum for the same reasons that it’s used for guarding.
The bottom line is, aluminum extrusion is just a really good material to build things from. And when looked at it that way, it becomes obvious why demand is growing. Not sure about homes built from aluminum though, and we gave up trying to work out how many you could build with 24 million tons of extruded section.