This can be a costly mistake. Extruded aluminum allows manufacturers to produce complex profiles with as few parts as one and can save companies real money on production and overall product lifecycle costs.
Light alloy extrusion is not always extensively covered in engineering schools and is sometimes ignored by design teams in favor of traditionally used techniques. As a result, many designers don’t have a strong background in relevant alloy properties, proper tolerancing, or the latest related manufacturing and fabrication techniques.
Fortunately, design engineers can work with extruded aluminum manufacturers to reduce parts, improve functionality and eliminate machining and tooling to save costs throughout the project.
Saving Costs with Aluminum Extrusion
To start, understanding the component’s end use and product requirements are essential to selecting the proper aluminum alloy. Aluminum offers properties like a high strength to weight ratio, corrosion resistance and electrical conductivity among other benefits, putting it in a different class than materials like stamped mild steel.
Take electrical products, for example. If a design engineer were to pot an extrusion and encapsulate it properly, it gives a rigidity to the component while making it look and feel higher value. For example, a 22-gauge stamped steel enclosure might require stiffening ribs to become rigid enough so that it doesn’t flex when handled or be larger than mechanically needed to allow for sufficient heat sink properties. However, with aluminum extrusion, rigidity and even elements like thermal conductivity and corrosion resistance are already built in due to its essential properties.
Designers can also create complex shapes with extruded aluminum to reduce part count and combine functions to further reduce manufacturing costs. Aluminum profiles produced in near net shape can incorporate holes, slots, or screw bosses into the shape, eliminating much of secondary operations. Designs can also work to eliminate welded assemblies and riveting, increasing overall strength and decreasing overall costs. Although the individual cost of the extrusion could be higher than a simple formed sheet steel part, the overall system parts are often significantly lower.
Furthermore, extrusion dies are significantly cheaper than injection molds or die casting molds. Stamped steel can also be changed for aluminum extrusions for weight reduction which translates to cost savings in shipping. However, before skipping too far ahead, it’s important to review design.
Extruded Aluminum Profile Designs and Design Reviews
Today’s designers are at an advantage with access to CAD, CAM and PLM software in which they can create and test their parts in a virtual space. In the digital world, designers can test tolerances, requirements and tweak designs as needed as issues, solutions and new ideas arise.
Once a design is agreed upon within the production team, it’s time to share their plans with their aluminum extrusion manufacturer.
An aluminum profile design review allows the manufacturer to work collaboratively with product development engineers to optimize designs. This is an essential step before beginning the manufacturing process. Possible issues resulting from poor communication are minimized and the manufacturer has a more complete understanding of what the design team needs. Once a design has been approved, the manufacturing process can begin.
From Billet to Final Product in the Aluminum Extrusion Manufacturing Process
The aluminum extrusion process allows custom dies to be made in significantly less time compared to other metal production processes, like die casting or blanking and stamping.
With an approved final design, a billet and extrusion tools are preheated before the billet is transferred and pushed with force against the die. The fully formed profile is then extruded and cooled.
Once the unfinished aluminum is exposed to air, it naturally passivates, developing a transparent oxide coating, which is usually sufficient for surface protection. If additional surface protection is required, paint, powder coating or anodizing are suitable options.