Standard extruded aluminum profiles could make your next fabrication project easy. Well maybe not easy, but definitely quicker. Think of these shapes as aluminum Legos: they give you the flexibility to make whatever you want whenever you want it. Skeptical about our enthusiasm? Well let’s explain.
The Beauty of Extruded Aluminum
Aluminum is a very versatile metal. It’s much lighter than steel, and nearly as strong. It won’t corrode except in the most extreme conditions, it’s an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, and it’s readily recycled. Best of all, by using it in extruded section form, you can simplify and cost-reduce your designs while adding strength and improving appearance.
Extruded aluminum crops up in many different fabrications. Trailers are one example, but then there are solar panel support structures, window frames, machine enclosures and decorative trim. You can even make brackets and housings for electronic devices from it. In fact, to trot out the old cliché, uses for extruded aluminum are limited only by your imagination.
Understand the Process
Now before you fire up the CAD workstation, pause a moment. Does your product, fabrication or structure really need the most beautiful-yet-functional aluminum profile the world has ever seen? Might standard section aluminum extrusion be a better choice for your project?
To answer that you need to know a little about the extrusion process.
Aluminum is extruded by forcing it through an opening or hole shaped to the profile required. We’ve called it the toothpaste process before, because it’s similar in principal to squeezing that minty freshness out the tube.
That profile can be almost any shape you want: squares, rectangles, circles and hexagons are just a few examples. It can also be hollow, which is useful for strong yet lightweight sections. (Remember from your beam theory how load-bearing strength comes from material at the outside and not the center?) However, shapes that extrude well have one thing in common: symmetry.
Perfect symmetry isn’t essential. If it was you could only extrude squares and circles, but symmetry across one axis at least is highly desirable. The reason is that symmetrical shapes extrude with far less distortion than those that are asymmetric. That means a more uniform profile with less twist or bend along the extruded length.
Understand the Tooling
The piece the aluminum is pushed through to create the extruded shape is the die. This has to be strong and hard-wearing, so it’s usually made from a big piece of tool steel. This isn’t easy to machine: many die shops use electro-discharge machining (EDM) to spark-erode the through-hole, followed by careful polishing. Together those processes create the geometry and surface finish that control how the aluminum is shaped.
The thing to note is that the profile through the die won’t be exactly the same dimensions as the finished extrusion. This is due to how the metal moves through the opening, which is what causes that twist and bend mentioned earlier.
There is a lot of science in die design, but there’s art in there as well. After the die has been machined it goes through “prove-out.” A length of aluminum is extruded and then every dimension measured precisely. The more complex the die the more chance there is that the die will need some modification. A really complicated profile could need several iterations of machining and prove-out.
Compared to injection molding dies, extrusion tools aren’t complicated. One for a simple section could be produced in a few days, but a very complex section might take several weeks. (And yes, time does correlate with money.)
Bottom line then: that fancy custom extrusion might add the finishing touch to your fabrication, but do you want to wait? Maybe there’s a tool already on the shelf that makes a similar extruded shape. That’s going to let you move ahead with your project faster, and may avoid some engineering and set up charges too.
Standard Profiles Are Available From Wiley Metal
We can supply a variety of standard shapes. These include solid bars and rods, circular and square hollow tubes, and angles. Channels and “I” beams are possible too. For specific sizes, get in touch and we’ll be happy to discuss this further.
Adding Value To Extrusion
Talk to us about extruded aluminum shapes and you’ll find we can do a lot more than just supply you with lengths. Additional services we can perform include:
- Cutting to length, including bevel cuts
- Drilling holes and slots
- Bending (within limits!)
We can also arrange anodizing if that’s a surface finish/appearance you’re interested in. And if there’s anything else you want, please just ask!
Aluminum Series Considerations
If you know anything about aluminum you’ll probably be aware it comes in different metallurgical formulations. These are given series numbers, 1000, 3000, 5000 and so on. Some of these formulations extrude more readily than others.
Aluminum extruders generally prefer to work with the 6000 series alloys. These have properties that let them flow well through the die. Fortunately, they also have good properties for use in fabrication. For example, 6061 has good strength, although 6063 is sometimes preferred for its machineability and the ease with which it anodizes. If you need a specific series, (maybe an aerospace grade 7000,) talk to us. And don’t forget, choosing a standard section will definitely simplify things!
Getting the Project Done
Once you see how extruded aluminum can improve your fabrications you’ll spot opportunities to use it everywhere. When you reach that point it’s tempting to start designing your own sections. If that’s what your design needs, great, we’re happy to help.
But, (there’s always a “but”,) standard sections are a bit like working with Legos. Pick the shapes that work for your application and put them together. They’ll save you time in design and let you get into manufacturing quicker. They may also save you money, and by getting the job done faster they’ll give you time to do more.
If we’ve done our job here you’ll understand our enthusiasm for standard aluminum profiles. Your next step? Call or email, and let’s talk about what we can offer.