Solid structures

From everyday uses to extreme applications, Aluminum alloys get the job done

Many people think of Aluminum in terms of crushable cans and foil, but, in addition to being lightweight, Aluminum’s strength and toughness is valuable when manufacturing cars, trucks and military vehicles. There are more than 500 recorded alloys that contain Aluminum, and because of the light metal’s myriad of uses, many additional alloys continue to be developed, combining pure Aluminum with elements such as Silicon, Magnesium and Copper to create high-strength, durable materials.

Military vehicles face a variety of extreme conditions, and manufacturers use Aluminum alloys to help ensure troops are protected from crashes, explosives and other attacks. Aluminum alloys also reduce the weight of these large vehicles and resist rust in harsh climates. Military aircraft, such as the F-16, also rely on high-strength Aluminum alloys, and NASA often develops its own Aluminum-containing alloys that are used in its spacecraft programs, in addition to automotive and aircraft applications.

High-strength Aluminum alloys for cars build upon technologies used in the aerospace industry to create materials that are lighter than high-strength Steel and just as strong. Because an Aluminum part weighs about one-third as much as the same Steel part, it can be engineered to be thicker and stronger yet still contribute to an overall lighter vehicle with improved performance and fuel efficiency. Aluminum also can effectively absorb energy from a crash, protecting the vehicle’s occupants. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, all Aluminum-intensive vehicles have received a 5-star crash test safety rating.

Ford’s F-150 showcases Aluminum’s capabilities of reducing weight yet retaining power. The truck features a cab and box fabricated from high-strength, military grade Aluminum alloys and a frame with eight crossmembers that contain 78 percent high-strength Steel. The vehicle is 700 pounds lighter than the previous generation series of trucks, thanks to this combination. Jaguar Land Rover also turned to Aluminum stamped panels, castings and extrusions to reduce weight by about 40 percent in its Jaguar line and slim down the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport by more than 882 pounds.

Aluminum parts also can be made of recycled material, extending their environmental benefits. Primary production of the material uses large amounts of electricity; however, secondary production, which involves recycling aluminum scrap, uses significantly less energy, making aluminum one of the most valuable materials to recycle. According to the Aluminum Association, at the end of a vehicle’s life, nearly 90 percent of the Aluminum, on average, is recycled, and 75 percent of all Aluminum produced is still in use today.

Each Aluminum alloy has its benefits and constraints, and material specifiers are encouraged to discuss their needs with an alloy manufacturer or metallurgist. A mix of materials also can be used to achieve performance goals. The body of an Aluminum can, for instance, is made from alloy 3004 and the lid from 5182. Because of the amount of alloys available, it’s likely an existing chemical composition can provide the necessary specification; otherwise a new alloy can be created. Belmont Metals can provide customers with expert metallurgical advice and invites inquires on special alloys and shapes, including custom alloys.