Aluminium is one of the most versatile metals. It is used for everything from the aerospace, rail, and automotive industries to medical applications, and even artworks. Aluminium is an extremely lightweight metal, which is why it is favoured by aircraft manufacturers, it is also impervious to rust and 100% recyclable, which has made aluminium the metal of choice for manufacturing drink containers.
Despite these advantages, fabricating aluminium can still be a challenging process and requires careful thought to achieve the best results.
Cutting your aluminium
The best way to cut your aluminium will depend a lot on the type of aluminium you start with. Aluminium plate can be cut with different types of saw, but can also be cut with plasma, and increasingly by laser cutting machines. Laser cutting is particularly effective at producing finished sizes containing intricate shapes.
If you are working with aluminium tube or extrusion rather than plate, you will need to use carbon tipped circular saw blades. Guillotining or band-sawing could also achieve the cut you need.
Connecting your aluminium
Once you have cut your aluminium to the right size, you must think about joining it to the other parts of your product. The usual way to connect aluminium is by welding it. Welding aluminium requires the material to be properly prepared. The oxide layer on the surface of the metal must be removed by chemical or electrical means before welding can take place. The oxide melts at a higher temperature than the metal and will prevent welding if it is left in place. MIG or TIG welding is generally recommended for aluminium fabrications; the AC current automatically strips away the oxide layer, allowing the welding to take place effectively.
Bending your aluminium
Many aluminium fabrications require bending, and there are four main ways of achieving an appropriate bend depending on the nature of the aluminium alloy in use. Stretch forming, wrap and mandrel bending, three roll bending, and three point bending could all be employed in the right circumstances.
Finishing your aluminium
There are lots of different ways of finishing your aluminium product. You could use a mechanical finish such as polishing or grinding. Alternatively, you could anodise the aluminium surface to increase the thickness of the protective oxide layer. For aluminium drinks cans, an organic coating is often used.
The choices you make for your aluminium fabrications will depend on your final product, but understanding the processes involved will allow you to make an informed choice on the most appropriate methods for your product.