Although you might be tempted to think that going with the cheapest metal for your project is the best idea, especially in today’s economy, the equation is not so simple.

If you and your team are considering which material to use for your project, it is important to know and understand all of its traits before you choose. Elements like weight, malleability, resistance to corrosion, and cost will all factor into your choice, and will affect the success of our metal spinning efforts. See how aluminum sizes up against steel, and which applications each are suited for below.

Making Sense of Steel

One of the most abundant metals on the planet, steel is known for its strength and durability, which makes it a strong candidate for applications that require those traits. Steel will not scratch, bend, or become deformed no matter what force or heat you throw on it. This is imperative when you are building infrastructure that requires a solid base. Steel will stand firm against weather, friction, and heat.

As durable as steel is, however, it is susceptible to corrosion, and needs to be painted or treated in its final applications to avoid this problem. There is a way around it. Mild steels and carbon steels can add just 11% chromium to make them “stainless steel,” a product that is less susceptible to corrosion although more expensive. Another drawback to steel is that because of its weight, shipping parts made of steel is more cost-prohibitive.

Attributes of Aluminum

Although technically steel is stronger than aluminum, because of aluminum’s lightweight nature, its strength to weight ratio actually brings it to the forefront. Aluminum is also a more malleable, lightweight metal, and can be bent and shaped into a wide variety of products. Because it is lighter in weight, it is also more cost-effective to ship parts made from aluminum.

Aluminum’s malleable nature makes it good for extrusion and rolling applications as well. Additionally, aluminum is a great thermal conductor. If your project has heat dissipation and distribution requirements, aluminum is a better choice. Finally, aluminum is not susceptible to corrosion, which is a definite positive.

There are a few drawbacks to considering aluminum. Because it is so malleable, it does not have the brute strength required to hold up a bridge or support other infrastructure, so if you need that kind of reliability, choose steel. Also, aluminum tends to be more costly than steel.

Consider Cost Differences

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the cost differential between steel and aluminum, so you need to analyze each project individually. Mild steels and carbon steels tend to be cheaper than aluminum, but if your project requires stainless steel, you will actually pay more for that metal.

At the end of the day, though, if you are using steel for your base, you can expect to pay less for that raw material than if you are using aluminum.

Applications for Steel

Steel is used in applications where strength is not an option, and steel can use its dominant trait of durability. Find steel in the following applications:

  • Steel supports and girders
  • Concrete bridges and parking garages
  • Bulldozers, tractors, cranes
  • Car frames
  • Suspensions
  • Tank heads
  • Air movement parts
  • Filtration components
  • Washers and dryers
  • Ovens

Applications for Aluminum

Aluminum is used in applications that require a bit more finesse and malleability, where strength is not the number one requirement.

Typical applications include the following:

  • Window and door frames
  • Railings
  • Side paneling and other finishing applications
  • Aircraft parts such as fuselage and wings
  • Appliance bodies and frames
  • Coffee makers
  • Chemical equipment
  • Electrical components
  • Decorative parts
  • Bike frames, handlebars, and wheels
  • Baseball bats
  • Sheet metal

Choosing steel or aluminum is ultimately up to you as you consider the characteristics you need for your product, the process of forming it, and your budget. If you have a project in mind but are not sure exactly which metal is right for the job, talk to our experts today.

Sheets of aluminum
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