Aluminium properties and applications
Riding on steady, sustained growth in worldwide consumption since the 1950s, aluminium today is the leading non-ferrous metal in use, finding ever more ingenious applications in sectors as varied as aeronautics, beverage containers, construction and energy transportation.
This success, based on making the most of the natural properties of aluminium and its alloys, is due also to the harnessing of specific technology and know-how, which allows the improvement and performance of these materials to meet expressed needs.
With 40 years of experience-whether in characterization analysis of materials, conversion metallurgy , metals forming, corrosion research, assembly or surface treatment processes-and with resources found nowhere else in Europe, the Voreppe Research Center has been furnishing solutions to industry that exploit the essential properties of aluminium and its alloys.
Unique mechanical, thermal and recycling properties
The natural qualities of aluminium and its alloys are positive deciding factors for designers, manufacturers and industrial users who are always on the lookout for better-performing materials and innovative processes.
Lightness - With a specific mass of 2700 kg/m3, aluminium is the lightest of all ordinary metals, nearly three times as light as steel. Removing weight from products is an effective response to environmental concerns (energy efficiency, smaller carbon footprint) and economics (profitability of production and use). Lightness benefits not only the applications but also operations on the shop floor and working conditions, and means lower expenditures on material handling equipment.
Electrical and thermal conductivity - Unalloyed aluminium has a thermal and electric conductivity about 60% of copper, which accounts for its development as a conductor, in the form of bars and tubes which are used in numerous electrical applications, such as connectors and distribution bars.
Corrosion resistance - Aluminium and its alloys provide excellent resistance to atmospheric corrosion in marine, urban and industrial settings. This high resistance extends the life of equipment, significantly reduces maintenance costs and preserves outward appearances. These properties are especially desired in industrial vehicles, street furniture and traffic signals.
Suitability for surface treatments - Aluminium and its alloys lend themselves to a huge variety of surface treatments, which enhances its intrinsic qualities. For example, an anodization of a few micrometers is enough to preserve the optical or decorative properties of the materials, while improving resistance, especially to corrosion and stress.
The diversity of the alloys and intermediates - No less than eight families of aluminium alloys offer properties perfectly suited to their contemplated use, whether it is weldability, corrosion resistance, superior mechanical performance or something else. The numerous ways they can be converted or processed, moreover, gives engineering departments and manufacturers a very broad range of intermediates-rolled (sheets), extruded (profiles), die-cast, forged and molded-able to meet highly specific functional requirements, while simplifying assembly and finishing.
Ease of use - Aluminium alloys are used in all the customary processes of forming, bending, vessel-making, stamping and machining where other metals are used.
Recycling - Aluminium can be recycled indefinitely without losing any of its intrinsic qualities. This is a considerable advantage in modern metallurgical industry. For the past 20 years the proportion of metal consumed that is recycled has grown steadily and today stands at something like 30% of primary metal production.
Multiple industrial applications
Aerospace - The absolute requirement for light structures, made only stronger by environmental regulations, make aluminium and its alloys now more than ever the number one material in the sky. In the last 35 years, newly designed alloys and increasingly innovative conversion and assembly processes have halved the weight of an airplane's structure. Their percentage in aircraft sructures sold to airlines companies 70% of what goes into an airframe and are an indispensable part of the programs in the world.
Automotive - Chassis, bodies, engine blocks, radiators, hubcaps... Driven by consumer needs and increasingly tight regulations, the automobile industry has made ample recourse to aluminium. A European car today contains on average 100 kg of aluminium, taking advantage of multiple properties of the materials: lightness (a 100 kg loss of weight reduces fuel consumption by 0.6 litres/100 km and greenhouse gases by 20%), resistance (improved road-handling, absorption of kinetic energy, shorter braking distance) and recycling (95% of the aluminium contained in autos is collected and recycled, and represents over 50% of the vehicle's total end-of-life value.) The automotive use of aluminium is expected to double in the next ten years.
Marine - Marine transport is increasing its use of aluminium by capitalizing on its two leading qualities: lightness and corrosion resistance. Advanced alloys have enabled the design of high-speed ships, by lightening hulls by 40% to 50% over steel. Corrosion resistance, even on the water, makes for more durable hulls, masts and superstructures on pleasure boats and the bridges and superstructures of passenger ships and merchant ships.
Rail - Lighter structures, resistance and durability have made aluminium crucial to rail transport applications. The French SNCF 2-level high-speed train is made of aluminium alloy sheet metal and extrusions, as are many subways and commuter trains throughout the world.
Building - Commonly used in extruded, sheet-rolled or molded form for window frames and other glass supports, for siding and partitions, aluminium is a favorite element of modern architecture. It can be made into complex forms in an extensive range of colors, stands up to the weather and calls for very little maintenance. These features make it especially valued by architects and builders, who use it in public buildings (like hospitals, universities and office buildings), industrial buildings and private houses.
Packaging - Modern packaging is one of the leading consumers of aluminium. Its lightness saves both on the material and the energy it takes to produce it. Its corrosion resistance and impermeability provide the protection and safety required for packaging foods and pharmaceuticals. And its complete recyclability makes it re-usable in the economic cycle. Long in use in the form of foil for flexible packaging, aluminium today has become a commoner sight in rigid and semi-rigid packaging, especially in beverage containers (over 25 billion aluminium cans have been used in greater Europe) but also in preserves, aerosols, bottle caps and lids, etc.
Mechanical industry and engineering - The many features of aluminium and its alloys also account for its growing use in mechanical applications. Makers of machines with moving parts, such as robots, are using an increasing number of aluminium parts to reduce inertia. In terms of heat exchange (liquid-to-liquid or liquid-to-gas), aluminium's thermal conductivity is critical in electronics, seawater desalination, HVAC exchangers and the plastics industry, where using aluminium alloy molds with pronounced mechanical properties (Alumold) can shorten fabrication cycles by up to 30%.
Energy distribution - Aluminium's low density combined with its excellent electrical conductivity make it a crucial material in the distribution of electricity. Universally, and now practically exclusively, used for high-tension wires, aluminium can also be found in conductors (twice as light as copper), telephone cable shields and protectors against electrical and magentic fields.
Sports and leisure - Light and versatile, aluminium is now featured in numerous objects in our daily environment, from mass-marketed electronics (household appliances, refrigerators, radiators, CD coatings, etc.) to sports equipment (hang gliders, ski poles, golf clubs, off-road bikes, scooters) and leisure products (trailers, camping, diving and mountaineering equipment).Last update 03 May 2011 Back to top