Aluminium is part of our everyday lives. It’s used to build air and space craft, to make bikes, car engines and body parts. We package food, drink and health & beauty products in aluminium foil trays, drink cans and aerosols. And it’s used to make parts for electronic and consumer goods like laptops, MP3 players and mobile phones.
Aluminium is infinitely recyclable, lightweight, resistant to corrosion and as strong as steel when alloyed with other metals, which makes this versatile metal an ideal choice for designers
Where does it come from?
Aluminium does not occur naturally in nature, but it is the third most abundant element in the earth’s crust. The main source is bauxite, a mineral ore (a rock deposit) found mainly in Africa, South America, the West Indies and Australia. To produce aluminium from bauxite is a complex process that was only perfected in 1886 which makes aluminium a very ‘young’ metal!
How can aluminium be used?
Aluminium can be used in a variety of ways.
Casting in a sand or metal mould shapes molten aluminium. In some factories water is used to cast ingots from molten metal. Casting can create complex parts or decorative shapes.
Aluminium can be rolled into foils, sheets and thicker plates. These can be cut, formed and joined. Thin foils can be laminated with plastics.
Extrusion forces hot, softened aluminium through a shaped die to form a long product. These can be used as long lengths or cut into smaller pieces.
Forging uses presses and other tools to apply pressure to shape the aluminium. Forging changes the structure of the aluminium to make it stronger.
Laser cutting uses a high power computer-controlled laser to cut accurate shapes from aluminium sheets or plates.
Anodising uses an electrical process to coat the surface of the aluminium with its oxide. This helps the treated part resist corrosion. The anodised surface can be dyed to add colour to the part.
Aluminium parts are dipped in or sprayed with dry paint powder. The part is then placed in an oven and the powder particles melt to form a continuous coating.
Aluminium doesn’t always need protecting from the elements, because it doesn’t corrode. Using aluminium uncoated reveals its natural ‘shine’, which is seen as an asset by designers, especially in packaging.
There is so much more you can explore about aluminium! Use the links below to find out more about this amazing material. You can also learn much more about aluminium from our sponsors.