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An Introduction to Aluminum Extrusions

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Aluminum extrusions are an essential manufacturing method for a variety of industries. They offer numerous benefits over traditional manufacturing techniques, including design flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and structural durability. In this article, we’ll provide a comprehensive introduction to aluminum extrusions, covering the basics of the process, its applications, and its benefits.

What is Aluminum Extrusion?

Aluminum extrusion is a manufacturing technique that allows aluminum profiles to be created in a wide range of shapes and sizes. The process involves forcing heated or cold aluminum billets through a die at high pressure, resulting in the extruded shape.

The extrusion process begins by heating aluminum billets to a temperature between 800°F and 925°F (427°C and 496°C), depending on the alloy. The billet is then loaded into a hydraulic press where it is pushed through a specially designed die. The die, which is made from tool steel, determines the cross-sectional shape of the profile. Once the aluminum has been extruded through the die, it is cooled and cut to length.

Extruded aluminum profiles can be produced in a limitless range of shapes and sizes, including solid bars, hollow tubes, complex geometries, and custom shapes. This design flexibility makes aluminum extrusions a popular choice for a wide range of applications.

Applications of Aluminum Extrusions

Aluminum extrusions are used in many industries, including automotive, aerospace, construction, and electronics. Due to their lightweight, strength, and corrosion resistance, they are an ideal material for use in various components and structures.

Automotive Industry

In the automotive industry, aluminum extrusions are widely used for body-in-white structures, subframes, suspension systems, and heat exchangers. Lightweight vehicles lead to lower fuel consumption, thus reducing CO2 emissions, so extrusions are a popular choice for manufacturers looking to reduce vehicle weight.

Aerospace Industry

Aluminum extrusions are also used in the aerospace industry. The lightweight properties of aluminum make it a popular choice for aircraft parts, including wing structures, fuselage frames, and engine components. The ability to produce complex shapes easily and cost-effectively makes aluminum extrusions preferable over other manufacturing techniques.

Construction Industry

In the construction industry, aluminum extrusions are commonly used for windows and doors, curtain walls, roofing systems, and structural components. Aluminum’s light weight makes it easier to install, reducing labor costs on construction sites, and its corrosion resistance reduces the need for maintenance.

Electronics Industry

In the electronics industry, aluminum extrusions are often used for heat sinks, LED lighting fixtures, and electronic enclosures. The thermal conductivity and heat dissipation properties of aluminum make it ideal for cooling sensitive electronic components.

Benefits of Aluminum Extrusions

Aluminum extrusions offer numerous benefits over other manufacturing methods, including:

Design Flexibility

The ability to create customized shapes and sizes allows for greater design freedom. This is particularly true when compared to traditional manufacturing methods such as casting or stamping. Intricate designs can be created without the need for additional machining processes.

Structural Durability

Aluminum extrusions are incredibly strong and durable. They are resistant to corrosion and can withstand harsh environments. In addition, their strength-to-weight ratio is better than that of steel, making them an excellent material choice for applications that require both strength and lightness.

Cost-Effectiveness

Due to the ease with which aluminum extrusions can be produced and the minimal wastage involved in the process, they are a cost-effective solution for many industries. In addition, aluminum is a highly recyclable material, which reduces the environmental impact of manufacturing.

Aesthetic Appeal

Aluminum extrusions have a modern and sleek appearance. They can be produced with a variety of finishes, including anodizing and powder coating, to create a range of colors and textures.

What capabilities and specifications does Alusat Aluminum offer for custom aluminum extrusion projects?

At Alusat Aluminum, we take pride in providing a wide range of capabilities and specifications to cater to the unique requirements of custom aluminum extrusion projects. Our offerings include:

  1. Circle Sizes: We offer circle sizes of up to 18 inches, allowing for versatile design possibilities.
  2. Length Capabilities for Mill Finish: Our capabilities extend up to a length of 50 inches for mill finish extrusions, ensuring that we can accommodate larger-sized projects.
  3. Length Capabilities for Anodized Finishes: For extrusions requiring anodized finishes, we can handle lengths of up to 25 inches in-house, delivering consistent quality and efficient production.
  4. Length Capabilities for Painted Finishes: If your project demands painted finishes, we can handle lengths of up to 24.5 inches in-house, ensuring a smooth and flawless coating.
  5. Thermal Capabilities: While weight limits may apply, we offer various thermal capabilities such as thermal strut lengths reaching up to 25’1 and pour and de-bridge lengths also up to 25’1. This allows for efficient insulation and structural enhancements.
  6. Precise Lengthwise Cutting: Our expertise includes lengthwise precision cutting with a remarkable accuracy of +/- .002″, ensuring the perfect size for your specific needs.
  7. Drilling, Tapping, and Stamping: We boast advanced capabilities in drilling, tapping, and stamping, enabling us to create threaded holes, precise shapes, and unique designs with precision.
  8. CNC Machining: Our state-of-the-art CNC machining capabilities ensure precise and complex extrusion profiles, enabling intricate designs and enhanced functionality.
  9. Surface Grinding and Conditioning: We offer surface grinding and conditioning services to enhance the final appearance and texture of the aluminum extrusions, delivering a polished and refined product.
  10. Radius Bending: Our expertise extends to radius bending, allowing for the creation of curved extrusions, enabling creative and versatile design options.
  11. Welding (MIG and TIG): We offer MIG and TIG welding services, ensuring structural integrity and seamless joints for your customized aluminum extrusions.
  12. Turning: Our turning capabilities enable us to create cylindrical shapes and intricate details, expanding the possibilities for your custom designs.
  13. Assembly and Fabrication: At Tri-State Aluminum, we offer complete assembly and fabrication services, allowing us to provide ready-to-use components or finished products as per your project requirements.

Our extensive experience and expertise in customized aluminum extrusion design make us the ideal partner for your next project. To learn more about our capabilities or to collaborate with us, feel free to contact us or request a quote today.

How are porthole die hollows, bridge die hollows, and seamless tubes produced in aluminum extrusion?

Porthole die hollows, bridge die hollows, and seamless tubes are three different types of hollow shapes produced through the process of aluminum extrusion.

Porthole die hollows are commonly used and cost-effective in creating shapes with internal holes. The production process involves dividing the ingot being extruded using a two-part die assembly. As the metal passes through the internal die passages and the orifice made by the die opening and mandrel, it is “welded” back together. The resulting material has hidden metallurgical seams and is not suitable for high-pressure applications.

Bridge die hollows follow a similar process to porthole die hollows but with a different die design. In this case, the mandrel that forms the inside void shape is suspended behind the main die housing. After each billet is extruded, the die is stripped clean. Unlike porthole die hollows, the mandrel in bridge die hollows is internal, allowing for continuous extrusion guidance from the press.

Seamless tubes, on the other hand, are produced by piercing the billet before extrusion. The piercer or mandrel becomes the inside diameter of the resulting tube. Unlike the other methods, seamless tubes do not involve any welding. Because the material is seamless, these tubes have enhanced strength, enabling them to withstand high pressures. This process is typically used for round or square profiles, and it has certain limitations when it comes to creating inside shaped geometries.

What is factor and how does it indicate the difficulty of extruding a profile?

Factor, in the context of extrusion, is an essential indicator used to assess the level of difficulty involved in extruding a given profile. It is determined by calculating the ratio of the size of the circle to the surface perimeter of the profile. This value provides valuable insight into the complexity of the extrusion process.

To explain this further, let’s consider a round solid rod as an example. Such a rod would exhibit a low factor of, let’s say eight. This signifies that the size of the circle, relative to its surface perimeter, is relatively small and uniform. Consequently, the extrusion process for this profile would be relatively straightforward and less challenging.

On the other hand, a round shape with numerous splines or indentations around its periphery would have a significantly higher factor, potentially around 50. This indicates that the size of the circle is comparatively larger in relation to the surface perimeter, resulting in a more intricate and complicated extrusion process.

In essence, the factor is a quantitative measure that helps engineers and manufacturers understand the difficulty level of extruding a profile. It allows them to anticipate the challenges involved, plan accordingly, and determine the best approach to achieve the desired extrusion results.

What are the cost savings and advantages of using extrusions over castings?

Extrusions offer significant cost savings and advantages when compared to castings. One major cost-saving aspect is tooling. In the casting process, semipermanent mold tooling can be quite expensive, with costs ranging from $30,000 for small parts to over $100,000 for larger ones. On the other hand, extrusion dies are generally much more affordable, with custom dies typically priced under $1,000 and even large, complex hollow dies seldom exceeding $5,000.

Additionally, the casting industry often charges customers for replacement tools when the original ones wear out. In contrast, extrusion suppliers typically bear the cost of replacing dies. This further adds to the cost savings associated with extrusions.

Another advantage of extrusions over castings is the reduced need for machining. Machining prototype parts from solid stock can be costly, often requiring expenses of $1,000 or more. However, with extrusions, designers spend a similar amount on first article dies, which not only serve for production but also contribute to cost savings. This eliminates the need for extensive machining and the associated expenses.

Moreover, the time required for tooling production is considerably different between extrusions and castings. The casting process often takes months to create and prove the casting tools. In contrast, extrusion dies can often be built and proven within a few weeks. This faster turnaround time allows for quicker production and reduces overall lead time.

In terms of the final product, extruded parts have inherent advantages over castings. Extrusions are typically stronger and lighter compared to their formed-sheet counterparts. This weight reduction can result in cost savings down the line, such as in transportation costs or when designing structures that require lighter materials.

Overall, the cost savings and advantages of using extrusions over castings are significant. From more affordable tooling to reduced machining expenses and faster production times, extrusions provide a cost-effective and efficient solution. Additionally, the inherent strength and lightweight properties of extruded parts further contribute to their appeal in various industries.

How does the cost of aluminum extrusions compare to other product forms?

The cost of aluminum extrusions, when compared to other product forms such as coiled sheet and castings, offers several advantages. When it comes to coiled sheet, the cost of extrusions is generally comparable, especially when considering a similar width of around 48 inches. However, the process of slitting the sheet to a narrower width, cutting it off, and sequentially forming it adds additional costs to the final product. In contrast, an extrusion possesses the desired properties without the need for these extra steps and associated expenses. Additionally, extruded parts tend to be stronger and lighter than their equivalents made from formed sheets.

Compared to castings, the primary cost-saving benefit of extrusions is related to tooling. Semipermanent mold tooling used in casting small parts can often exceed $30,000, while tooling for larger parts may surpass $100,000. In comparison, custom dies for extrusions, even for complex hollow shapes, typically cost under $1,000 and rarely exceed $5,000. Furthermore, the casting industry usually charges customers for replacing worn-out tools, whereas extrusion suppliers conventionally bear the cost of replacing dies.

The cost advantage of extrusions is also evident in prototyping. Machining prototype parts from solid stock can often cost over $1,000. For extrusions, designers typically spend a similar amount on first article dies, which can then serve in production once proven. Moreover, the process of creating and validating casting tools often takes several months, whereas extrusion dies can be constructed and proved in a matter of weeks.

What knowledge and background should designers have for designing extruded aluminum parts?

When it comes to designing extruded aluminum parts, designers should possess a comprehensive understanding of various aspects. Firstly, they should have a strong grasp of alloy properties, including the characteristics of different aluminum alloys. Specifically, familiarity with the 6000 (Al-Mg-Si) Series alloys, such as 6061 and 6063, is crucial. Alloy 6061, often referred to as the “plain carbon steel of aluminum,” is particularly important as it is considered the standard workhorse for structural parts.

Furthermore, designers should be knowledgeable about the relative material and tooling costs associated with extruded aluminum parts. Understanding the economic aspects of the manufacturing process allows designers to make informed decisions when selecting the most cost-effective materials and tools.

Keeping up with the latest manufacturing techniques is another essential requirement for designers. Staying informed about advancements in extrusion technology ensures that designers can harness the full potential of the process. By being up to date with the latest techniques, designers can take advantage of the versatility offered by extrusion to create parts with individually engineered shapes. This versatility allows designers to optimize the use of metal in their designs, placing it only where it is structurally necessary or even hollowing out parts to improve utility and reduce costs.

In summary, designers should possess a solid background in alloy properties, be aware of the relative costs of materials and tooling, and keep up with the latest manufacturing techniques to effectively design extruded aluminum parts. Having this knowledge and understanding will enable designers to create successful and efficient designs in this field.

What are some best practices for designing aluminum extrusions?

Best practices for designing aluminum extrusions involve implementing a range of design techniques to enhance the overall quality of the final product. These practices include:

  1. Utilizing webs, grooves, and ribs: Incorporating these features in the design helps to increase structural integrity and enhances the overall strength of the extruded aluminum, reducing the risk of deformation or failure.
  2. Implementing generous tapers: Including gradual tapers in the design facilitates easier extrusion and aids in the removal of the extruded part from the die, minimizing the chances of distortion or damage during the process.
  3. Maintaining balanced walls: Ensuring that the thickness of the extruded walls remains consistent throughout the design helps to prevent inconsistencies in the extrusion process, leading to a more uniform final product.
  4. Avoiding or limiting hollows: It is advisable to minimize or avoid incorporating hollow sections in the design, as they can cause issues during the extrusion process, such as uneven cooling rates or increased vulnerability to deformation.
  5. Minimizing the perimeter/cross-section ratio: Designing with a low perimeter-to-cross-section ratio reduces the risk of distortion and warping during the extrusion process, resulting in a more precise and reliable final product.
  6. Practicing symmetry and limiting asymmetrical details: Emphasizing symmetry in the design promotes even material flow during extrusion and helps to maintain structural integrity. Minimizing asymmetrical details also reduces the likelihood of stress concentrations that could compromise the overall strength and stability of the extruded aluminum.

By following these best practices, designers can optimize the manufacturing process and produce high-quality aluminum extrusions that meet the desired specifications and performance requirements.

Conclusion

Aluminum extrusions are a versatile and cost-effective manufacturing method used in many industries. They offer design flexibility, structural durability, and cost advantages over traditional manufacturing techniques. With their strength, light weight, and resistance to corrosion, they are ideally suited for use in many different applications.

If you’re interested in learning more about aluminum extrusions or would like to discuss how we can help bring your project to life, please contact us today!

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