Aluminum, one of the most common metals found in the earth’s crust, has a number of attributes that make it ideal for engineering-related purposes. Under normal circumstances it’s non-magnetic, and it’s a great conductor of both electricity and heat. It is also sturdy, lightweight, malleable, and incapable of rusting. These qualities make it the ideal base material for a manufacturing technique called aluminum extrusion.
If this is your first time to hear the term “aluminum extrusion,” then it may help you to read this feature. In this short guide we’ll walk you through how aluminum extrusions are made, and we’ll fill you in on some of the many complex applications these simple components are used for.
How Aluminum Extrusion Takes Place
The word “extrusion” may seem quite technical, but in reality, the principle behind the process is as simple as working with modeling dough. As a child, you may have pushed dollops of dough into plastic dies in order to make it assume a certain shape. The same logic applies with aluminum extrusion: it’s the technique of shaping long strands of the metal into solid, semi-hollow, or hollow shapes.
The extrusion is typically completed in the following steps:
- First, the die that will mold the aluminum is designed and built. Once the die is prepared, the process of extrusion can begin.
- Next, a solid length or a billet of aluminum is put on a loader for extrusion.
- The billet is pushed into a container and enough pressure is applied on it to force it through the die.
- Once the length of the aluminum already assumes the shape of the die, it is placed on a run-out table and cooled by fans.
- When it’s fully cooled, the billet of aluminum is straightened and cut into smaller parts.
- These parts are then heat-treated in ovens in order to fast-track the aluminum’s aging process.
The end result of this technique is the production of parts called “aluminum extrusions.” They can be either simple or complex in their shape, and they can be anywhere between a few millimeters to several feet in size. It all depends on their final applications—of which there are many in the fields of engineering and architecture.
The Many Everyday Applications of Aluminum Extrusions
Aluminum extrusions are used in a variety of settings and applications. Some of the most notable examples are the following.
Extrusions have long been incorporated into elements of public infrastructure like streetlight poles, road signs roadside balustrades, and many others. However, civil engineers have begun to use such components more often for building and repairing bridges. This is thanks to the aluminum material’s durability and lightness, as well as the straightforward “one-piece” installation of the extruded parts.
Aluminum extrusions are also commonly used in architecture, most notably in the construction of elements like canopies, archways, shades, large curtain walls, and fencing. When layered with custom finishes, these extrusions actually tend to be very aesthetically pleasing. Extrusions also make for great reinforcement against strong rain or wind. Thus, building with aluminum extrusions can afford extra protection to a building’s occupants.
Aluminum extrusions also see frequent application in machinery design and construction. Thanks to the complex shapes that the finished extrusions can assume, manufacturers depend on them in the production of intricate equipment. It’s not uncommon to see machines equipped with such extrusions hard at work in factories that make automotive, scientific, or medical gear. You’ll even see them incorporated into some of the products being manufactured as well!
Aluminum’s high electrical conductivity makes the metal ideal for use in both traditional and newly emergent energy generation technologies. The extrusions are already widely used as key components of electrical connectors, but they have become just as vital in the production of mounting and racking implements that are used in solar power equipment.
When aluminum extrusions replace steel in the construction of cars, buses, or train carriages, the tradeoffs are apparent. The production process releases less carbon emissions, and the finished vehicles are also lighter and are thus more fuel efficient. This means cars with optimized aluminum parts are not only better for the environment, they are also great for the car owners’ wallets, too.
Electrical and Electronic Equipment
Lastly, aluminum extrusions are used in many everyday appliances and consumer gadgets. These include, but are definitely not limited to, the following: power units, conduits, motor housings, and laptops.
These are just some real-life applications of aluminum extrusions, showcasing how vital they are to our modern life. Extrusion—the technique—brings out the best qualities of the metal, highlighting aluminum’s malleability, durability, performance with heat and electricity. It also proves just how adaptable aluminum is to the various use cases in a wide range of industries.
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