Extrusion is a widely used aluminum forming process that delivers almost unlimited possibilities in product design. The extrusion process is similar to the childhood pastime of creating long strands of play-dough by forcing the product through a plastic-shaped die. Fortunately, aluminum’s weight, strength and high thermal conductivity vastly outweigh that of play-dough, leading to its presence in a wide range of consumer and industrial goods. The aluminum extrusion process has the added benefit of enabling fast product development cycles due to its low-cost and flexible tooling. Manufacturers can accelerate prototype and testing phases by rapidly creating and evaluating different designs.
- Reducing auto emissions while increasing safety
An automobile designed with 1 pound of aluminum extrusions instead of 2 pounds of steel will save 3.1 gallons of crude oil, and prevent 20 pounds of CO2 emissions over its lifetime. North American car manufacturers plan to increase the use of aluminum in cars and light trucks by over 40% from 2012 to 2025. Aluminum tailgate frames, engine mounts, roof consoles and running boards are also corrosion resistant and more resilient in crashes due to their inherent strength and flexibility.
- Aluminum extrusions and LEED
With buildings accounting for over 40 percent of global energy consumption, it’s no surprise that extruded aluminum is becoming a product of choice for green builders. The use of aluminum extrusions in commercial buildings can contribute to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) points in a number of areas including Energy Efficiency, Selection of Sustainable Materials and Indoor Environmental Quality.
- Consumer applications
Many everyday products get their form and function from extruded aluminum. Aluminum extrusions make patio furniture lighter, speedboats faster and sports equipment more durable. The innovations are sure to continue—low cost and flexible extrusion tooling lets manufacturers experiment with new designs and applications.
Aluminum Extrusion 101
The extrusion process
Extrusion is a plastic deformation process in which a solid cylinder of aluminum (billet) is forced by compression through a smaller die opening. The billet is typically preheated to facilitate the deformation process.
Near infinite design possibilities
There are many factors in an extrusion process that influence the properties of the final product, 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 strength, weight and sustainability of aluminum add to its appeal for manufacturing and construction applications.
Forming the end product
The aluminum extrusions formed right from the press are rarely seen in commercial applications. Extrusions typically undergo a number of fabrication and/or finishing processes to transform them into usable components, such as an auto part or construction material. The fabrication process generally starts with cutting the extruded length, followed by punching, machining, bending or welding.
Extruded Aluminum in Space
Extruded aluminum tubing is playing an integral part in the most complex international scientific venture in history. Boeing Company engineers designed an intricate aluminum truss structure to house the International Space Station (ISS) currently weighing in at over 400,000 pounds, measuring 146 feet long, 240 feet wide and 90 feet high. Aluminum extrusions provide the mechanical properties and surface finish needed for this mission-critical application.
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