Chances are, you have heard about aluminum extrusions. They have a major presence in a wide range of consumer and industrial goods. But what exactly are they, and what is the process like?
What are Aluminum Extrusions?
Aluminum extrusions are shapes of aluminum that can be solid, semi-hollow, or hollow. Many everyday products get their form and function from extruded aluminum. They’re used in everything from home appliances to automobiles. Customers value aluminum extrusions for their strength, stability, corrosion resistance, and lightness. Aluminum extrusions make consumer products like patio furniture and speedboats lighter, and also increase the durability of items such as sports equipment.
How Does the Aluminum Extrusion Process Work?
Extrusion is the process in which a solid piece of aluminum plate, tube, sheet or bar is forced by compression through a smaller die opening. The process has been likened to pushing a lump of Play-Doh through a mold or squeezing toothpaste through a tube. What starts out as an undefined mass takes on the shape of the form through which it’s pushed.
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Extruding aluminum beings with softening solid piece of metal with heat and then forcing it through a steel die. The end result is a die-opening shaped aluminum component that is corrosion-resistant, lightweight, and strong.
There are two standard methods of extruding aluminum:
Direct extrusion (the most common method). A billet of heated aluminum is placed in a walled container, and a hydraulic ram pushes the material through a die (mold) opening. Quite a bit of pressure is necessary from the ram, but the result is a formed piece due to the combination of heat and pressure.
Indirect extrusion. With this method, the die or mold stays stationary while the aluminum billet and container push forward. The ram’s pressure forces the soft aluminum through the die opening in the opposite direction of the ram.
During the extrusion process, the temperature of the entire walled container must remain constant.
What are the Different Aluminum Extrusion Shapes?
According to the Aluminum Association, there are many factors in an extrusion process that influence how the final product will turn out, including:
Type, layout, and design of the die
Length of billet and type of alloy
Temperature of billet and container
Die and tooling temperature
Speed of extrusion
These adjustable factors, coupled with inexpensive tooling, create near-limitless possibilities for design.
The extrusion process can create long components or smaller pieces ranging in size from one millimeter to several feet long. Because of aluminum’s light weight and malleable properties, extrusion shapes can be rather complex, including hollow and multiple chamber shapes.
The aluminum extrusion molding apparatus could be compared with a cake decorating kit. If you put the star tip on the pastry tube, you’ll get star-shaped frosting. If you place the flower shape on, you’ll get a flower pattern. The extrusion process is much the same. With the aid of powerful hydraulic presses, aluminum can be extruded into nearly any shape you can think of.
Aluminum Extrusion Shapes
Here are a few standard aluminum extrusion shapes:
Aluminum angles are standard extruded L-shaped parts composed of two legs that intersect and form a 90-degree angle.
Aluminum beams are used are structural and support components of building construction.
Aluminum channels are smooth, linear, and fairly narrow channels that provide a supportive frame for roll-formed products.
Aluminum extruded tubing is a hollow, linear aluminum product. It is typically cylindrical, but it can also be square or rectangular. Aluminum square tubing and aluminum rectangular tubing are manufactured for specialty applications like aluminum downspouts and building supplies.
Aluminum frames are components of modular framing systems (constructed out of many different units).
Aluminum trim is long, thin, and narrow. It can be custom made to fit a specific purpose or space.
T-slotted aluminum extrusions can be used to construct almost anything, but are most often seen in enclosures, cabinets, shelving, machine guarding systems, industrial workstations, office partitions, computer server racks, trade show exhibits, material handling, and robotics.
Can Aluminum Extrusions Be Customized?
Yes! A custom die can be designed and created to best meet a customer’s needs. Custom aluminum extrusions can be fabricated with holes and other features to support the customer’s unique manufacturing process. The material is shaped according to the die’s opening, taking on its same profile.
Custom extrusions are compatible with a wide variety of aluminum grades and finishes. A major benefit of custom extrusions is that they can provide uniformity across an array of complex designs.
What to Look for In an Aluminum Extrusion Company
Obviously, you want to look for an aluminum extrusion company that is skilled and honest. You’ll want to consider your budget, project timeline, standard requirements, delivery preferences, and post-delivery support requirements.
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Kloeckner Metals is a full-line aluminum supplier and service center. Kloeckner Metals combines a national footprint with the latest fabrication and processing technologies and most innovative customer service solutions.
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Natalie Spira is Kloeckner's Marketing Communications Manager. Previously, she was the CEO and Founder of Fraction Marketing, a marketing agency catering to ecommerce startups. Natalie holds a MBA from Tel Aviv University with concentrations in entrepreneurship and marketing and a BA in English from UCLA.