Over the past few decades, aluminum extrusion has seen substantial growth in applications, especially in product design and manufacturing. This process produces extruded components and products, such as pipes, tubes, metal channels, flanges, sheets, thermoplastic coatings, and wire insulation.
Since the materials are only processed and tested for shear and compressive strength, the extrusion technique can manufacture even the most complicated cross-sections with the most delicate materials. With that, aluminum is one of the most common extruded materials to produce parts, products, and other manufacturing accessories.
What Is Aluminum Extrusion?
Aluminum extrusion involves forcing an aluminum alloy material with a ram through a die with a specified cross-sectional profile. It is comparable to removing toothpaste from the tube. The material is initially forced through the die and out of the hole by a powerful ram. Then, as the material is subjected to pressure, it is transported down a runout table and exits with the same shape as the die.
The Aluminum Extrusion Process
Aluminum extrusion operations differ from project to project based on the component and production specifications. In general, they adhere to the same fundamental procedure, which involves the following steps:
1. Determining the Required Profile
Before the extrusion process, a profile drawing that includes the part’s specifications and tolerances is determined and drafted. This will help the manufacturer decide whether the design is feasible.
At Richardson Metals, the customers provide the profile drawing. Any part the company makes for the customer must fit inside a 4.5-inch-diameter circle and weigh no more than 2.5 lbs per foot. Once the design has been approved, the die is made.
2. Cutting the Aluminum Into Billets
Once the dies are produced, production can proceed to the extrusion process. First, the aluminum is chopped into billets or cylindrical blocks of metal. The billets are then warmed to temperatures between 850 °F and 925 °F — hot enough to soften the metal but not hot enough to melt it. The working temperature can be anywhere within this range, but it must remain constant during the operation. Otherwise, the final product’s cross-sectional areas may not be uniform.
3. Transferring the Billets to a Loader
Once the billets are heated, they are placed on a loader and lubricated to prevent them from sticking to the extrusion equipment.
4. Extruding the Billets
After placement in the loader, the billets undergo a direct extrusion process. In direct extrusion operations, a ram pushes against one end of the billet to force the other end through the die. This process continues until the whole billet has been pushed through. Once the extrusions are made, they are cooled and sent for further processing.
The final steps include stretching, straightening, work hardening, cutting, heat treating, and surface finishing.
Common Shapes in Aluminum Extrusion
Aluminum extrusions take on many different forms. Some of the most common shapes include the following:
- Solid shapes, such as solid bars and rods with various cross-sections (e.g., circles, rectangles, squares)
- Semi-solid shapes, such as angles, channels, and other partially open forms
- Hollow shapes, such as tubes with various cross-sections (e.g., circles, rectangles, squares)
In general, metals and alloys can be extruded into various structural shapes, including L shapes, H or I beam profiles, hollow square tube shapes, channel shapes, Zee or Z shapes, Tee or T shapes, and hollow square tube shapes.
Aluminum CNC Machining
Few materials have the tremendous adaptability that aluminum does. As a result, aluminum is ideal for CNC machining since it is reasonably priced and machinable. In addition, it may be processed three or four times faster than typical machining materials like steel and titanium.
Due to its capacity to swiftly and efficiently make complicated yet lightweight parts, aluminum CNC machining is one of the most used production processes. For instance, it is perfect for usage as the outside skin panels of various modes of transportation, from cars and trains to boats and aircraft. These can be attributed to its flexibility and excellent strength-to-weight ratio.
Three categories can be used to classify the most popular alloys for CNC machining aluminum:
Cast Aluminum Alloys
This kind of alloy is created by pouring molten aluminum into a mold and cooling it. As a result, cast aluminum alloys are readily available, adaptable, lightweight, strong, and capable of withstanding high temperatures.
Aluminum Lithium Alloy
Since lithium has the lowest density of all the elements, this kind of alloy is much lighter than pure aluminum or other materials. Because of this property, al-Li alloys are frequently used in the aerospace sector for lower wing skins, inner wing components, fuselages, and fan blades. They are also used in space rockets and race cars.
Wrought Aluminum Alloy
The most often used material in CNC machining aluminum is wrought alloy. Wrought aluminum alloy has greater structural integrity and mechanical qualities when compared to cast alloys. As a result, they are less difficult to wear on cutting tool edges, easier to manufacture and offer better surface finishes.
Aluminum Extrusions Industry Applications
Aluminum extrusion is a highly versatile manufacturing process that creates many different parts and products. At Richardson Metals, our aluminum extrusions find application in a diverse set of industries, including the following:
Aerospace and Military
Aluminum offers a high strength-to-weight ratio, suitability for low temperatures, and minimal maintenance requirements — all of which make it ideal for use in aerospace and military operations. As a result, aluminum extrusions are used as components in many different devices, equipment, and systems, such as those found in aircraft, the International Space Station (ISS), and military and hospital field sites.
For buildings, aluminum extrusions can improve functional and aesthetic qualities and provide structural support in normal and extreme conditions. For instance, they can save energy usage and embellish internal and outside spaces when correctly designed and installed.
Aluminum is commonly used for electronic device components due to its formability, thermal and electrical conductivity, and non-magnetic characteristics. Aluminum extrusion is commonly found in cell phones, computers, laptops, electronic chassis, racks, housings, motors, and power distribution systems, among other electronic items.
Aluminum is ideal for manufacturing components for medical equipment, such as hospital beds and testing devices. Additionally, aluminum extrusions can be made to tight tolerances, which allows them to meet the industry’s strict standards.
Sports and Recreation
With a high strength-to-weight ratio, aluminum is sturdy without adding significant weight. It is also highly formable, accommodating various complex and intricate part designs. These qualities make it suitable for sports and other recreational equipment, such as bicycle frames, skates, skateboard hardware, boats, etc.
Aluminum and aluminum alloys play an important role in creating the hardware and infrastructure for the telecommunications industry. The metal is light, which reduces transportation and installation costs and conducts electricity well. Common applications for aluminum extrusions in telecommunications include cables and satellite parts.
Aluminum Extrusion By Richardson Metals
Richardson Metals specializes in aluminum extrusion solutions! Our team accommodates project requests with the following specifications:
We process 6061 and 6063 aluminum. 6061 aluminum is a strong metal used for adding structure and support. On the other hand, 6063 aluminum produces extrusions with high-quality surface finishes, which makes it ideal for visible parts and products such as architectural elements.
We can create many shapes, including bars, profiles, rods, and tubes in solid, semi-solid, and hollow forms. In addition, we fulfill custom design requests for customers with highly specific or unique requirements.
Our equipment can extrude aluminum profiles up to 4 inches in diameter, up to 2.5 pounds per foot, and as thin as 0.040 inches in thickness with ±.005 inch tolerances.
We offer aluminum extrusions in prototype and full-scale production quantities.
Contact the Aluminum Extrusion Experts at Richardson Metals Today!
If you need aluminum extrusions, Richardson Metals is here to help! We have over 40 years of experience designing, manufacturing, cutting, and finishing aluminum extrusions for customers in various industries, including aerospace, electronics, medical products, telecommunications systems, recreation, and more.
Our 14,400-square-foot facility has a 550-ton RAM press and a 41/2-inch diameter press. In addition to our aluminum extrusion capabilities, we offer in-house preparation and processing services, such as surface preparation and finishing, CNC machining, cutting, deburring, drilling, punching, and tapping.
Contact us to learn more about our aluminum extrusion capabilities! You may also partner with us on your next project by requesting a quote today.