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Know Your Metals: Aluminum

By Practical Machinist Sponsored Content

Aluminum and its alloys are highly popular in the machining industry for many reasons. Did you know it is the most abundant metal on Earth? That’s why it is such a cost-effective option. Aluminum is also desired for its physical properties. It is a great option when considering machinability, corrosion resistance, appearance, and recyclability.

Let’s take a deeper look at the qualities of the metal…

Physical Properties

Aluminum’s strength to weight ratio is both unique and a core benefit. It can be surprising how strong the metal is, considering how lightweight it is. This quality is what makes aluminum suitable for use in the aerospace and automotive industries.

Another quality, adding to aluminum’s popularity, is its resistance to corrosion. Aluminum develops an oxide layer to fully protect against corrosion. This “oxide skin” makes the metal resistant not only to weathering, but also to many (not all) acids.

CNC machines and aluminum are compatible because the metal is pliable, so it chips easily. This allows the machines to cut quickly and accurately, however machinability of aluminum varies depending on the alloy and grade.

Challenges of Machining Aluminum

Similar to other metals, the physical properties that make aluminum suitable for machining can also cause some less than desirable qualities.

Because of aluminum’s soft nature and low melting point, it is common for gummy buildup to form. If possible, choose an aluminum alloy that’s been tempered for hardness. This manages the heat friction to prevent the material from fusing to the cutting edge.

Deformation of the part is also common due to the relatively low hardness and high thermal expansion quality of the metal. This pertains mainly to the machining of thin parts.

Recommended Reads

As a mechanical engineer, it is imperative that you understand the properties of different metals. The better you understand the material you are machining, the more equipped you are to select the right parameters for the application. Here are some resources to expand your knowledge of aluminum.

Machining of Light Alloys: Aluminum, Titanium, and Magnesium

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Your comprehensive source on the machining of light alloys, presenting a collection of both experimental and review studies. The work is arranged in eight chapters that analyze the main problems related to the machining of these alloys from different perspectives.

Handbook of Aluminum: Volume 2: Alloy Production and Materials Manufacturing

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This reference provides a thorough and in-depth coverage of the latest production and processing technologies encountered in the aluminum alloy industry. It also includes information about current analytical methods for aluminum alloy characterization.

Aluminum Recycling

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With a specific focus on aluminum recovery, rather than just recycling in general, this book offers an integrated discussion of scrap recovery and re-melting operations and includes economic as well as technical elements of recycling.

Properties of Aluminum Alloys: Tensile, Creep, and Fatigue Data at High and Low Temperatures

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With more than 300 tables that detail the typical properties of a wide range of aluminum alloys, this book includes information about the mechanical properties and fatigue strength of wrought and cast aluminum alloys.

Encyclopedia of Aluminum and Its Alloys

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This encyclopedia is a comprehensive reference covering all major aspects of metallurgical science and engineering of aluminum and alloys.

Fundamentals of Aluminum Metallurgy: Production, Processing and Applications

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Part one discusses different methods for producing and casting aluminum, quality issues and specific production methods. Part two covers the metallurgical properties of aluminum and its alloys. Part three includes chapters on joining, laser sintering and other methods of processing aluminum.  

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