Why demand for aluminum welding is increasing

The ability to develop welding procedures for aluminum and aluminum alloys coupled with the ability to weld these alloys is becoming even more important for fabricators. Whether it is a job shop producing different products every day or a firm that specializes in a single product, the ability to fabricate out of aluminum is necessary. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually.

The demand for aluminum products has been steadily increasing over the past few decades.  This is due to the fact that aluminum and aluminum alloys provide a large number of significant advantages over other metals. Welding is one of the primary ways to join aluminum and thus, those having the expertise to weld it successfully will continue to enjoy steady work and potentially large contracts. 

Some of the benefits of aluminum and aluminum alloys you may already know, but maybe you’ll find one or two that are new to you. 

Here are some of the characteristics of aluminum that will continue to rise the demand for it in both wrought  and cast form and as a fabricated end product. 

  1. It is lightweight compared to steel and stainless steel – aluminum has a density of about a third that of steel and stainless steel.  This means that products fabricated out of aluminum will be much lighter than their steel counterparts.  This is very important in automobiles, airplanes and sea-going vessels to improve fuel efficiency.  It also allows for more cargo since the weight of the vehicle is reduced. It is a great material to use in bicycles, especially racing bicycles. Again, to reduce the weight and increase rider efficiency. 
  2. It is weldable – many aluminum alloys are weldable, meaning they can be welded and that the weld will hold and perform well in its intended service.  This means the weld will not crack or corrode prematurely.
  3. It is easily extruded – aluminum can be extruded into a multitude of shapes.  It is easily workable and provides the ability to produce complex extruded shapes. 
  4. It has great corrosion resistance – aluminum forms an oxide layer (aluminum oxide) when it is exposed to air.  This oxide layer provides great corrosion resistance against the elements.  It is commonly used for boats to resist the corrosion caused by salty ocean water.
  5. It has very high thermal diffusivity – aluminum conducts heat extremely well.  It actually conducts heat 5 times as fast as carbon steel.  This makes it a phenomenal material to use in heat sinks; therefore, it is great for applications such as heat exchangers.  
  6. It has good tensile strength – some aluminum alloys can have a tensile strength of up to 90,000 psi.  Although this is not as high as some steels and stainless steels, it is certainly plenty for a multitude of applications. 
  7. It has great toughness – toughness is the ability to absorb energy and not fracture. This makes it great for automobiles.  Aluminum has twice the toughness of typical automobile steels.  This is great for you as a driver.  If you are in a collision, the aluminum will deform (but not break) allowing the frame of your vehicle to absorb the energy of the impact.  This is a good thing, your car may be totaled, but it may save your life. Some of the old steel frames were great at saving your car, but more of the energy from the impact would be transferred to the driver and passengers making collisions much more dangerous. 
  8. It has great resistance to chemicals – similar to corrosion resistance, resistance to other chemicals makes it a great material to use for storage of diverse chemicals.  Aluminum, for example, is used extensively in fuel tanks. 

Aluminum has many other benefits, a critical one being that it does not have a ductile-to-brittle transition making it great for cryogenic applications.  We will cover this depth in a future article as this ductile-to-brittle transition is important to understand and how it differs between the many metals we use to fabricate structures and vehicles. 

Can you name any other benefits of aluminum? 

Reference: Alcoa Structural Handbook, A Design Manual for Aluminum

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